A minor trafficked, abused, rescued, and rehabilitated. But justice has been denied by delay of the judicial system – She is not allowed to forget the trauma – She has relive the trauma day in and day out as the case drags on. Kavita Patil (Twitter: @pkavita93) followed the case and filed this report.
She was all of 12 when a couple brought her to Bangalore from West Bengal to look after their newborn son. A year later, when she was rescued, there were 22 wounds on her body. An NGO gave her shelter and support and a case was duly filed against her employers.
But that was eight years ago. Four judges and four public prosecutors have changed but the hearing is still at the initial stage. While Durga (who uses only her first name) has moved on, a lack of closure and the ongoing trials still torment her.
"It's been eight years but every day in court feels like the year I spent with them,” she told this reporter from her room in the complex of Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), the NGO that rescued her.
She has attended 15 hearings in eight years but there's been no progress at all. Veena Rai, a lawyer associated with Human Rights Law Network, informed that the court is still looking for witnesses. She said lack of evidence against the couple has been holding the investigation up.
For Durga, this has not been easy. She said she has to narrate, and thus inadvertently relive, her ordeal at every hearing. She said the accused and their lawyer interject at every stage; they heckle her and accuse her of lying.
With a shudder, Durga described the dreadful year she spent at Pallab and Sinchita Chakraborty’s house at HSR Layout in Bangalore. Staying in an upmarket flat, Pallab worked for Infosys while his wife worked in another private firm. The couple b(r)ought Durga from West Bengal to work at their house and to take care of their infant son. Durga said her grandmother sold her to the couple for Rs51,000 as they convinced her that she'd be educated, have a place to stay and also would be able to send money home.
Founder and executive director of APSA, P Lakshapathi, told this reporter that Durga had 22 wounds on her body when she was rescued from the couple. In fact, he said she was so battered that she had to undergo a lip reconstruction surgery to be able to speak, drink or chew. Further, she had told the rescuers that her employers would beat her up, not give her food for days and even made her strip at times.
Recalling those days, Durga alleged they had poured hot oil on her back and her skin had burnt. She said the couple would even smash her face on the wall, which is how her lips got severely injured, so much so that she couldn't even bring herself to drink water despite a parched throat.
Lakshapathi said it took six months of professional counselling for the young girl to gain composure.
Soon after Durga's complaint was filed, Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, took up the matter. Consequently, Pallab was suspended from Infosys until the investigation was over. Also, the couple had to spend some time behind bars. While Pallab was let out on bail after six months, Sinchita had to spend only one month in the jail. Reportedly, the couple bagged other jobs and are leading a normal life.
Reflecting on Durga's long-drawn court case, the Commission's chairperson Kripa Alva stressed upon the need of a policy to fast-track hearing. “This will allow the children move forward in their life. Else, revisiting the trauma over and over again will mentally block them from doing a lot other things,” she said.
Women's rights activist Geeta Menon said most people are not scared of hiring a child as domestic help as there is no strict deterrent. She said many children are brought to cities from rural areas where the land on which the child’s family works or stays is owned by the people in the city. In such cases, she said they assume it is well within their rights to take a child work for them.
Road to recovery
While Durga had an exacting one year with the Chakrabortys, the NGO's support and her will has brought her life back on the track, to an extent. She finished matriculation at a facility managed by another NGO, Bosco, and then earned a diploma as a beautician from St. Joseph's Community College.
She said that while she lived with the Chakrabortys, she couldn't muster courage to run away because she did not know who to reach out to in this alien city as she wasn't familiar with the local language. However, now she can speak not only in Kannada, but also in Tamil and English, besides Hindi. She has discovered her love for painting and dancing and is proud to say she works as a beautician at APSA. Further, she also imparts beautician lessons and has taught more than two dozen girls and many children in the NGO.
While Durga's life has progressed by leaps and bounds, her case has been moving at snail's pace. And hers doesn't happen to be an isolated instance. While Karnataka's judiciary clears about 34,000 pending cases a month, it still needs another three years at this rate to dispose of all the pending cases.
(Kavita Patil is a Bangalore based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)