Manipur video sets Alwar gang rape victim back by 4 years. She wants right to be forgotten
As the gang rape video of Manipur’s Kuki women surfaced online, the Alwar constable’s gang rape video from 2019 was picked up, re-circulated, and made viral too. Her phone hasn’t stopped pinging since then.
JYOTI YADAV, (Edited by Prashant)
Alwar: Every time there is news about a gang rape or public humiliation of a woman in India, Savita’s* phone starts pinging. The news reaches her, not because she is a police officer, but because she faced the same ordeal when she was gang-raped, thrashed, and paraded naked in Rajasthan’s Alwar district in 2019.
Five days ago, as the gang rape video of Manipur’s Kuki women surfaced online, Savita’s video was picked up, re-circulated, and made viral too. It has been four years since her assault and three years since her rapists were convicted. The Rajasthan government made her a policewoman so that she can rebuild her life with a new identity.
However, her new life is still trapped in a toxic mix of internet virality and India’s rape culture. And the internet refuses to let her forget and move on. Gang rape videos are also recorded to intimidate victims into silence so they don’t report the crime for fear of social shame. Eventually, they are uploaded and shared online, and the threat hangs over the women forever. The Manipur rape video has traumatised Savita all over again.
In a bid to deflect blame over the horrifying visuals of the Manipur gang rape, many BJP supporting handles began a new cycle of political whataboutery by sharing videos of gang rapes and public parades in Congress-ruled states. And the horrifying past that Savita has been trying to put behind her was dredged up again.
“This is a brutal constant reminder and I can’t get myself to watch this. Everything about these videos reminds me of my rape,” said Savita, who is now 23 years old.
Until the evening of 23 July, she had no idea why five journalists had traced her workplace address, and why they were throwing hurtful questions at her over a call,hounding her for a quote.
“Have you seen the latest video? What do you have to say about your rape? How many men were there?” they asked her.
“They forced my senior to get me to talk to them and I obliged,” said Savita, who had blocked many numbers. She took a bus home where she learnt from her husband Ajay* that the video of her rape was viral again.
Don’t want to remember, can’t forget
On 26 April 2019, Savita and Ajay—both from the Dalit background—left on his bike for shopping. Preparations for her brother-in-law’s wedding were under way.
They had barely crossed a few kilometres on the Alwar-Thanagazi highway when a group of five men stopped them and dragged them into the nearby dunes. According to the FIR, the men beat the couple, took turns raping Savita, and filmed the crime while Ajay was forced to watch. Then they paraded the couple naked, and later began using the video for extortion, threatening to upload it on the internet if the couple didn’t pay Rs 10,000.
The Dalit couple faced further humiliation at the hands of Alwar police, which didn’t acton the case, waiting for the Lok Sabha election to end on 6 May.
Once the rape video was all over the internet, the Ashok Gehlot government acted swiftly against the officers. SP Rajiv Pachar was removed from the district and was put on APO (awaiting posting order) for negligence. Thanagazi SHO Sardar Singh was suspended and a case registered against him. In cases like this, while the video helps in registering the case and building pressure on the administration, once the process starts, the same viral clips come back to hound the survivors.
“Not only was there delay in [registration of] FIR and arrests, but the SHO humiliated me when we went to the police station to register our complaint. I was sitting outside whenthe SHO screamed at me, asking me whether I had henna on my feet that I can’t walk up to him,” Savita recalled.
In a politically tense state ready to vote, Savita’s case received overwhelming attention from leaders. CM Ashok Gehlot, DY CM Sachin Pilot, and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi came to meet her and promised justice. Many opposition leaders too lined up at her house.
Her case went to a fast-track court and the four accused were convicted in 2020. They were sentenced to life imprisonment until natural death. The fifth accused, who was shown as a minor, is still facing trial in a POCSO court in Alwar. The sixth person, who got hold of the rape video and made it viral on WhatsApp, was arrested and sentenced to five years of imprisonment.
The Gehlot government offered a police job to the survivor and a compensation of Rs 8 lakh. It was supposed to give her a new life, identity, and the freedom to forget.
‘Are you the same woman?’
Savita’s new life in the police force hasn’t been devoid of the unbearable burden of memory either. Every time she feels she has turned the corner, someone reminds her of it and drags her back to 2019, she tells ThePrint, sitting in her modest two-room quarter in the police lines in Alwar. Savita rarely has visitors at her home. Most times, she stays alone as her husband travels between Alwar and Jaipur for work.
“Once, a driver who was dropping me and my colleagues to a duty spot asked me if I am the same woman. When I was training in 2018, my batchmates confirmed my identity by Googling my rape video on YouTube.” Savita was left heartbroken.
And now she wants the government to step in one more time and get her rape video removed from the internet once and for all and put an end to her harassment. Her online right to forget mirrors a global campaign to keep private information away from online searches. Argentina, Philippines, and the European Union have put this in practice.
“I want to put an end to this cycle of virality. When my son grows up, I would want him to see me as a policewoman, not as a woman who was once gang-raped,” she said. She is not alone. Women both minor and old, from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh to Mahasmund in Chhattisgarh to Baran in Rajasthan, have been gang-raped with the crime video uploaded by the rapists, often for blackmailing or extortion.
After the last cameras left her home, Savita began the arduous task of reinventing her life. A police job appeared to be the first landing spot for a woman seeking justice.
The government gave her the joining letter in June 2019. She was allotted the 2018 batch. After nine months of training in Jodhpur, she returned home as Constable Savita.
The police uniform replaced the dupatta covering her face. She found her voice in the police force. After losing two years of education, she also cleared her 12th. Her eyes are now fixed on the next goal—get her BA degree and clear the sub-inspector exam, the latter to prove to the world that her identity is beyond that of a gang rape survivor.
But it isn’t easy fighting a case, juggling between odd duty hours, raising her two-year-old son, and dealing with the jibes every day—‘Are you the same woman?’ ‘Did you get this job because you were raped?’
“Everyone around me makes me feel that I am not worthy of this uniform. That I got a job in exchange for rape.” Savita said, sitting on one of the plastic chairs. She put her mobile phone aside and spoke with teary eyes. Over the past year, she lost 10 kg and appears like a 17-year-old. Her hands shook as she mentioned the video, and what her colleagues often subject her to.
Taunts, and rock-solid support
On 23 July, she returned to her quarters after long duty hours at Vidhan Sabha. She sat down to prepare dinner and remembered her four-year journey as a rape survivor and a policewoman.
“Ideally, the happiest day should have been when I got my joining letter or my first day of joining, or when my son was born. But the most satisfying day for me remains the day when the culprits were punished.”
When she was training, she would break down almost every day.
“They were women but they would still say things that pinched me. They would remind me that they didn’t see me during the exam,” Savita recalled, saying that these were sarcastic taunts.
Back home, her rape case is called a “matter”. And the ‘matter’ is now often brought up in family and neighbourhood disputes. But her husband Ajay, and other members of her in-law’s family, stand like a rock behind her.
From suggesting she watch Josh Talks and avoiding any mention of the case around her, they do their best to let her become the full version of herself — a policewoman.
“She is the first woman to become a police officer in her peehar (parents’ family) and in her sasural (in-laws) as well. We are proud of her,” said Savita’s mother in law, who is helping raise Savita’s two-year-old son.
Ajay took many odd jobs as a delivery man and a security guard to live with her in Jaipur and support her in her journey. But the taunts from relatives became louder and louder.
“They would not say anything to me but always behind my back. They talked loosely about how I am living on my wife’s job and compensation,” said Ajay, who has started a tent house business in the village.
But he is not able to be as stoic every time. There have been times he has felt forced to distance himself from her.
Recently, when Ajay boarded a bus from Jaipur to Awar with his two-year-old son, a curious fellow passenger asked about his wife. She is a policewoman, he said with pride. She then asked him about his village. Upon hearing the name, the woman rolled her eyes and said, “Are you the husband of that gang-raped woman? She was awarded a police job for that.”
That day, Ajay told the passenger that he wasn’t Savita’s husband.
Note: The names of the constable and her husband have been changed to protect their identity.
Courtesy : The Print
Note: This news piece was originally published in theprint.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights