Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

The Safe Woman

She was waiting for me at my office that morning, with a man I presumed was her husband. He seemed familiar. “I was in your drama group twenty years ago”, he said. She looked distraught. “I need to speak with you. Please”. Educated, soft spoken, nicely dressed…. I didn’t know what to expect.

She had been in the HR department of our largest public and teaching hospital, well paid and enjoying her work. At work she used to bump into a man, a doctor who worked for the Chief Justice of Gujarat. They started off a chatting relationship. He was from her cast and village. She felt comforted in the rather formal and highly competitive atmosphere of the hospital. He soon would come around when it was time for her to go home and offer her a lift. She would accept. The friendship grew, and they would occasionally stop for an ice cream. One day, he said he could give her a lift, but needed to stop at a friend’s to drop off something. Did she mind? She went along, and was asked to wait and have a juice in the sitting room while the two friends conferred within. She has no idea what happened next. She has no memories of that evening. She came to, outside her home, several hours later.

The next day at work he came to her. She remembers him behaving differently, saying leerily, “I have something to show you”. In her break she met him outside the hospital. He pulled out his mobile. What she saw made her throw up. There she was (or was it her?) performing oral sex to him, as he shot her at it. “Now you are in my hands” he said. Sick to her stomach and frightened out of her wits she slunk home. For many days she couldn’t leave her bed. Her husband and son didn’t know what the matter was. The only time she forced herself to leave was when “he” called to ask her to service someone. This went on for months. She left her job. Nightmares and fear were with her all the time. Finally one day she decided to come clean and gathering together her family and close friends she told them what had happened. They were horrified but sympathetic and her husband insisted they go to the police.

It is then that they realized how the law works. Her tormentor was a doctor in the High Court, with the ears of everybody in power. She might be only one of the women he was supplying to officers and others. No police station would register her case. She went further and further up the ladder of seniority. And drew a blank. By now her courage had returned and she wanted to expose him to save other women from her torment. But everywhere she drew a blank. She has now filed a case in court but it languishes.

What could I do to help?

Other than ask for legal advise and reassure her that we would stand by her through her battle, put her in touch with NGOs that support women, what could I do? In a system as insidiously corrupt and made up of pally pally and interrelated functionaries, what can any of us do? ( I took her case to the Commissioner of Police. “Women who bring up rape many years later are usually lying”. Has he heard of the many cases in Europe lately where women who have been raped continuously for twenty thirty years have finally spoken about it?)

A few dayslater one of my colleagues called me. On her way home from Darpana she saw a women dressed only in a torn T shirt, distraught and half maddened walking on the road, not looking at anyone. “She looked as if she had been raped.” My colleague told me. Everyone watched, no one did anything. My colleague had an extra kurta in her bag and with difficulty, managed to clothe her. “What else could I have done? She was half crazed. Is there a number I could have called?”

Once again I was filled with rage and frustration. With all the willingness and good will in the world, where can we take such women? Where is safe?

October 30th, 2011, DNA


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