In April this year, a girl from Gautam Budh Nagar district, UP was ordered to marry the man who raped her by a panchayat. The girl’s family objected and approached the police which refused to lodge an FIR.The cops registered it only after the matter was reported in the media.
Back in 2009, a panchayat asked an other rapist, a 25-year-old carpenter from Fakrina village in Allahabad, to choose between marrying the 21-year-old woman he had raped or paying a Rs 15,000 fine and being ex-communicated. The decision of the panchayat, which reportedly assured the survivor that she could lodge a complaint with them against her ‘husband’ if she did not get her ‘due as a wife’ sparked outrage among women activists across UP. “It’s inhumane and shameful,” Roop Rekha Verma, a social activist told a news agency.
Incidents of rape survivors marrying their attackers are being reported across the country, and these cases fol low one of two patterns – either an autocratic system, like the panchayat intercedes to force the union or the accused, in a bid to evade punishment offers marriage in exchange. Either way, it has come to the attention of the Supreme Court which on August 27 ordered that rape cases cannot be com promised or condoned even if the survivor forgives the accused.
Activists believe one reason for this practice is the social stigma associated with rape. “A rape survivor can find herself ostracized, and as a result, is made to believe a wedding, whether surreptitiously with the aggressor or to someone else, is the best solution,” said Rehana Abid of Astitva, a women’s rights group in western UP. In a region where, according to Abid, only four out of 10 cases of rape are registered with the police, the focus both for families and cops is on “settling” the matter sometimes even through financial compensation from the rapist’s family in exchange for not pressing charges. In towns like Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur in western UP, weddings of this kind are ordered by jaati and khap panchayats. “These weddings are common especially if both are of the same caste If the two belong to different castes however, weddings are rarer,” says Mad havi Kuckreja of Vanangana, a Bun delkhand-based rights organization Unions forged in brutality rarely have happy endings, and Kukreja says the violence often continues into married life, but mostly goes unreported.
Abid says in cases where the survivor is a minor and told to marry by the panchayat, the marriage is often upheld in court. In 2007, Nagpur resident Anjali (name changed) married her rapist after he suggested marriage in ex change for charges being dropped. “The groom saved my daughter’s life from being destroyed” is what the girl’s father said in a TOI report. Remarking on the court granting the accused bail to marry, the advocate said, “Anjali is a minor, but the court took a sympathetic view in the interest of social justice.”
Flavia Agnes, women’s activist and founder of NGO Majlis, believes it’s important to understand the complexities of the situation that lead a third party, be it the cops or court, to recommend these marriages. For starters Agnes points to how there are two distinct groups of rape cases increasingly being reported, where survivors and rapists are in a prior relationship.
One, there are cases where a man has ended things with a woman, either after a long live-in relationship or a few sexual encounters. Or, there is a man who promises marriage in exchange for sexual intercourse but then goes back on his word. “The woman is left looking for justice and usually approaches the police for help as she feels cheated and hurt with no other recourse,” said Agnes.
Helen Soy, officer-in-charge of the all-women police station in Ranchi, says that in the last year, there have been several instances of girls filing complaints of rape against their long-term boyfriends, and most of these cases are resolved when the boys agree to marry the girl. Only in these cases do officers like Soy intervene to ‘arrange’ the marriage. “The rape complaint is usually filed by the girl in the hope that we will help her get married to the boy,” said Soy, adding that these couples are usually already in live-in relationships.
But Soy cautions that it isn’t always a mutually beneficial compromise, especially when it’s the rapist who puts forth the idea of marriage to escape punishment. “These girls are either tortured by their husbands or thrown out of the house,” Soy said, citing the instance of a girl who had lodged a rape complaint against her live-in partner last month. “She married the man whom she had accused of raping her and within a month she came back to us claiming that her husband and his friends gang-raped her every night after drinking. We lodged an FIR against the husband and his friends but they are absconding now,” Soy said.
Similarly, a 21-year-old girl from Jhilli village, Murshidabad district, West Bengal, was raped by her neighbour Newton Patra in 2010. Her parents filed an FIR and Newton was arrested. But village elders intervened and got her parents to withdraw the FIR. “The elders told us that it would be impossible for us to find a groom for her and it would be better for her to marry Newton. Also, instead of giving dowry, we would get money from his parents. So we withdrew the FIR,” said the survivor’s father, who sells lottery tickets. Newton and the survivor had a civil marriage, but within a few days, he went off to Bolpur to finish his education and hasn’t returned since. She had a miscarriage and dropped out of school. She still awaits Newton’s return.
(With reporting by Swati Deshpande, Swati Mathur, Kelly Kislaya & Jaideep Mazumdar)