After gangrape, family wonders how to pick up the pieces

NAT
It's been over four months since she was gangraped but the 11-year-old's physical scars have not yet healed. Still in a hospital in Jaipur, she has had 14 reconstructive surgeries since being raped on August 20 and is awaiting a 15th, after which doctors believe she will be fit enough to be sent home to Bihar. That is expected to take another month.

And alongside the mental scars is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Her family worries whether she will ever live a normal life. One of her sisters has already became a victim of the stigma caused by the rape; her engagement was called off. The psychological counselling the child has been getting is likely to stop once she goes back to Darbhanga. And there is also the fight for justice to carry on with. The family alleges they have been getting threats to withdraw their complaint with the police.

The girl is the youngest of six sisters and a brother. After her father died last year, her mother and the younger siblings moved to Sikar in Rajasthan, where one of her married sisters is settled. The mother found a job with a plastic factory and the 11-year-old would accompany her to work.

The day after Eid, they went to the cinema. After the evening show, three of the sisters were walking home when a jeep pulled up next to them. One of the two men inside initially tugged at the dupatta of one of the elder sisters but it slipped out of his hand. They turned to the 11-year-old, grabbed her through the open window and dragged her for half a kilometre. Strapped to the back seat, she was raped through the night by the two men, who were in their early 30s.

When the effect of alcohol wore off the next morning, they panicked. They approached a friend, who gave them and money and advised them to get rid of the girl. They drove her to a deserted field, dropped her and hid in friends' houses for three days, switching ff their phones.

The Sikar police eventually tracked down Suresh Jat and Ramesh Sharma in a village and arrested them for the rape, along with four others who allegedly gave the accused clothes, money and shelter. The police have written to the J K Lone Hospital authorities for permission to conduct a test identification parade but doctors have turned them down, citing the girl's frail state. This is said to have held back the filing of a chargesheet and other legal proceedings.

After 14 complicated reconstructive surgeries, doctors feel the girl has overcome the worst and should be able to go home after the next, final surgery.

The Delhi gangrape has brought the August incident back into focus. Protests have resumed in Rajasthan. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar called up his Rajasthan counterpart Ashok Gehlot last week, while Governor Margaret Alva met the girl with a donation of Rs 51,000. The government has released Rs 5 lakh, besides ensuring free medical and legal aid. Residents of Sikar, too, have come up with large donations that have helped pay for the expenses of the girl's sister and mother as they tend to her in the hospital in Jaipur.

"We have converted the Rs 5 lakh given by the state government into a fixed deposit that the girl can use when she turns 18. For her current expenses, we are raising money constantly," says Saroj Karvasra, a social worker in Sikar. "The family has received adequate financial support but there is a fear that all the money might go into the wrong hands."

The girl's family says she insists on going back to Darbhanga. "We wonder whether she will ever be able to live a normal life. People will look down on her and no one might ever marry her," says the sister whose engagement was called off.

"A couple of months ago, we got threats with an offer to take Rs 10 lakh and withdraw the complaint," she added. "My sister has undergone so much pain, we will not compromise. After she is discharged, we plan to go back to Bihar. We will fight for justice."

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