Her Story

Sunday storiesBhanwari, 55, is aware that the guidelines are in the news, as aware as she is about what these still lack. It took the December 16, 2012, Delhi gangrape for the recommendations to take the shape of an Act. IE

It was in a village in Bassi and some NGOs in Jaipur and Delhi, 21 years ago, that the battle against sexual harassment at the workplace began. Sweta Dutta finds Bhanwari Devi aware, at work and still fighting.

Vishkha is not located far from where it once was, in Jaipur's Mansarovar area, and it now also takes up men's rights. Bhanwari Devi lives in the same village, Bhateri in Bassi tehsil 60 km away, in the same hut. The case of the government aid worker who was raped and fought back with the help of the NGO, however, has travelled a long way since. Twenty-one years later, the Vishakha guidelines springing from that case are now at the centre of two high-profile incidents which have renewed focus on sexual harassment at the workplace in India.

Bhanwari, 55, is aware that the guidelines are in the news, as aware as she is about what these still lack. It took the December 16, 2012, Delhi gangrape for the recommendations to take the shape of an Act. Seven months later, the rules are yet to be formulated. "Have the guidelines been implemented?" Bhanwari asks. "No? Then what is the point?"

However, even she knows that that is only partly true. In these parts, Bhanwari's struggle has made her a symbol for justice. The same villagers who once ostracised her after her rape, and more importantly for fighting back, come to her seeking help.

Early in the morning of December 6, Sitaram Koli and Jagdish Bairwa, who even today in the presence of upper caste men pretend to have nothing to do with her, stand at her doorstep, seeking help in land grab cases.

Late December 5 night, Bhanwari had received another call for help. Women had phoned her up to complain that Meena community members in nearby Gadoli had beaten them up while they were working on an MNREGA project, because the village voted for a Dalit candidate in the Assembly elections held on December 1.

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