A Portrait of the Indian as a Young Dalit Girl: Part 3 – Meeting Janvi

(Editor’s note: This was first published on Yahoo.com as a single piece. We are reproducing the long form report in parts for TwoCircles.net readers.)

You are 13, kidnapped from your street along with three friends, drugged, raped, and dumped 150km away. No one could possibly blame you, but they do. The authorities investigate you instead of the accused men. What appeal does a young Dalit girl from Bhagana, Haryana bring to a nation that thinks it has now become sensitive to sexual assault? Is it enough to live on the pavement at Jantar Mantar for months on end, hoping someone will notice your call for justice? How long will your fight for a new life last?

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A Portrait of the Indian as a Young Dalit Girl: Part 1 – The PlaygroundA Portrait of the Indian as a Young Dalit Girl: Part 2 – Sisters, MothersBy Priyanka Dubey

I first met 13-year-old Janvi on April 19, 2014. Just three days earlier, she had left their two-room house in Bhagana, left Haryana and come to New Delhi for the first time in her life. Her parents, siblings and 90 other Dhanuk families traveled with her to Delhi. Sushma, Leela and Meena, her three friends who were also assaulted the same night she was, travelled with her to Delhi. On April 16, they pitched a tent at Jantar Mantar and sat down to protest.

The night of April 19 was fiercely hot. Janvi and the clan came to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that night because students had organized an awareness and solidarity meeting to support the cause of the Dalits of Bhagana. Sushma, Leela, Meena and Janvi entered the mess of Satluj hostel at 10 pm. All four girls had covered their faces with cotton dupattas.

Of the four, Janvi was physically the smallest. She looked fragile and sleepy. She curled her legs up on a bench and sat quietly during the whole meeting. I tried to start a conversation. She responded with silence.

I met Janvi again 10 days later. At Jantar Mantar, the Bhagana Dalits were to organize their first candlelight protest march that evening. This time too, Janvi met my overtures with silence. For most of the day, she didn’t speak to anyone. At any given time, the shamiana at the camp only covered a fraction of the 90 families who had migrated with her from Bhagana. Janvi slept through the afternoon to deal with the heat. She woke up in the early evening and washed her face. For a moment it was as if she was getting ready like children all over the city were setting out to play in the cooler evening. But soon enough she covered her face again with her dupatta and prepared herself for the candle light protest march.

All around us were Dalit rights activists, members of OBC student forums and politicians from Haryana such as Vedpal Tanwar. That evening, I saw her, a thin little girl with a candle in her hands, walking from her tent on Jantar Mantar Road towards the Parliament Street police station. The police barricades stopped the march barely 800m away from where it started.

In June, I went to Jantar Mantar thrice to see her. Most of the time she was surrounded by her mother and other women from her community. She largely stayed silent when I spoke to the adults. On one occasion in June, during a fleeting conversation, she gave me a very brief account of the events of the night of the crime in an indifferent tone. An account she was now, three months later, habituated to repeating to journalists.

In mid-July, Janvi and I had our first long conversation, almost four months after we first met. Clouds covered the Delhi sky but there was no trace of rain. Now the crowd comprised NGOs; numerous Delhi-based organizations that had espoused the ‘Dalit cause’ in April, social activists and media crews had disappeared. The politicians who had been around till June, like Tanwar, were absent. The camp, which had bustled with activity and force, now only had 20 people. Most of the 90 families were back at the Hisar protest camp. The numerous protest posters that had been pinned on the tent were replaced by one big ‘Bhagana Kand Sangharsh Samiti’ banner. Bagoriya and Jagdeesh Kajala were now leading the fight under the new banner. Bagoriya and Kajala had also led the 2012 protest migration of Dalits from Bhagana village. They were among the first in Bhagana village to protest the unjust land distribution practices and everyday exploitation of Dalits by land-owning Jats.

Bagoriya, in his fifties, is a Kumbhar by caste. He’s faced discrimination all his life in Bhagana and grew up to become a rebel. He lives in a cheap rented house on the outskirts of Hisar and works full-time for the Bhagana Dalit cause. Kajala is young, just 25. A Chamar by caste, he and his family faced severe humiliation after the Jats boycotted them. A wall came up in front of Kajala’s house, cutting them off from the rest of the village. He says they were all so scared of being attacked at night that they chose to sleep indoors under the thin protection of quilts even in unbearable summer heat. Kajala once played and practiced on the disputed playground, keen to build a physique that would get him a job in the police or the army. Now he too is a full-time activist of the Bhagana Kand Sangharsh Samiti and wants to “fight till the end”.

Kajala says, “This was our first protest in Delhi and the capital’s media and NGO circle have taught us a lesson that we will never forget. We have been protesting at the Haryana mini-secretariat for two years now but never faced such politics. People came here to get their pictures clicked with the Haryana rape victims, to hijack the issue, for money and for publicity. We came here with the hope that our sisters would get justice like Nirbhaya got. But now we understand that village Dalits are only meant to be used and then left.”

As we are talking, I spot Janvi, dressed in a pink salwar and a yellow kurta, running around the camp, chasing little children from her clan. She smiles mildly at me.

Soon after the families began their protest at Jantar Mantar, the Haryana Department of Social Justice and Empowerment announced that each of the four families would be given Rs 1.2 lakh compensation. The money has not made a dent in the determination of the families who know they are fighting for a life of dignity, a life without fear, in which they know their neighbors cannot treat their daughters like animals.

Bagoriya is despairing, “The case is slipping away from our hands every day. One of the accused is now out on bail and we’ve failed to convince the court and police to record fresh statements of all four girls under Section 164 of the CrPC in a fearless environment and to add supplementary charges against Bhagana village sarpanch Rakesh Panghal and his aides in the FIR. Forget everything; we still have an FIR documenting the complaint of only the eldest girl Meena!”

The Bhagana rape survivors preparing dinner at the protest camp at Jantar Mantar in Delhi (Photo Courtesy: VK Singh)

The tent is, for all purposes, sex-segregated. In the women’s section, a poster of BR Ambedkar is propped up on a plastic chair. Children are playing as if they are not far from home, living on a sidewalk. Two women are washing utensils near the road. I spot Janvi again, walking at a fast pace clutching a new pack of soap and a few clothes. I asked Janvi’s mother Bhagmati if her daughter would talk to me for a few minutes. She agreed.

While Bhagmati was preparing evening chai for the family, Sushma and Leela were cutting vegetables for dinner. Janvi arrived and sat down in front of me on the plastic sheet on the ground. She still looked fragile, but not exhausted. Under the green dupatta that covered her head I saw large streaks of white hair. When I asked Bhagmati – who was pouring tea into steel tumblers – about it, she said, “I don’t know why but a lot of her hair has always been white. Deficiency or disease, we don’t know.” Janvi, who has been playing with the cake of soap in her hands, is restless. She smiles and asks politely, “Didi, can you come tomorrow? I have to wash my clothes now.”

When I arrive at Jantar Mantar the next day it’s raining. With only 12-15 family members sitting around, the protest camp seems even more deserted. The rain has ended the sex segregation. The men and women have converged into a small dry patch below the cloth tent. All the bedding, clothes, rations and grains are in a heap in this patch. Janvi, Sushma, Leela and their mothers are sleeping on the pile of bedding. Meena has gone back to Hisar to attend her cousin’s wedding — the same one Reetika had returned to the village for. All around the protest tent, rainwater collects in pools.

*Names of all rape survivors and their relatives have been changed.

(Republished with thanks to Yahoo.com, Grist Media and Priyanka Dubey)


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