“Media misreported my ordeal to defame farmers’ movement”: Tikri sexual-harassment survivor

19 June 2021
Women protestors at the farmers’ protest site in Tikri, on Delhi’s border, on 19 January 2021. The farmers’ protests, which began in September 2020, have been marked by a visible participation of women across protest sites.
Shahid Tantray for the caravan
Women protestors at the farmers’ protest site in Tikri, on Delhi’s border, on 19 January 2021. The farmers’ protests, which began in September 2020, have been marked by a visible participation of women across protest sites.
Shahid Tantray for the caravan

“Their only objective is to defame the protest and their sympathy with me or protesting women is totally fake,” a survivor of sexual harassment said of the media houses that reported on her ordeal at a farmers’ protest site at Tikri. She spoke to me soon after she had sent legal notices to at least two media houses—OpIndia and CNN News18—for “misreporting” the incidents that occurred in April 2021. “They never consulted me before writing these false stories and sensationalising the whole matter with the usage of words like rape and molestation.” She added, “Words like these insinuate physical assault, which never took place, so they were absolutely out of line to write such stories.”

The 29-year-old, who is a chartered accountant, said that she “never engaged” with these media publications, “yet they went ahead and wrote whatever to set up their agenda-driven narrative.” She told me she believes the government is using the false narrative built around her ordeal as a pretext to defame the protests and derail the movement. “All these so-called news channels and newspapers which published my story without consulting me and sensationalised [it]; they all are state backed media.” 

The survivor said that she intends to continue participating in the protests. She supports the cause of the farmers and “wanted to make this protest more women-friendly so that it encourages active participation.” She told me that she went public regarding the incidents because she wanted the leadership of the protests to address women’s issues. “Women have been sitting at the protest shoulder to shoulder with male counterparts for six months now with no certainty of how long it can go, and not even a basic grievance redressal mechanism in place at any protest site.” She added, “The patriarchal mindset and misogynistic attitudes towards women exist everywhere, including a progressive space such as this protest; Hence the dire necessity to have such structures in place where women or any person can reach out to seek redressal of their issues.”

The survivor first went public about the incidents via an Instagram post on 29 May. The post was initially public and has now been made private. It has a detailed account of a series of incidents that happened between 22 and 23 April, while the survivor was volunteering at Pind California—a clinic and night shelter set up by 5 Rivers Heart Association, led by an American cardiologist named Dr Swaiman Singh. The journalist Sandeep Singh had tweeted about the survivor’s account the day the post went up—she told me that Sandeep had taken her consent.

The post narrates how the survivor suffered verbal sexual harassment, “eve-teasing” and “slut-shaming” by two volunteers at the clinic. The post then notes that when the survivor approached Swaiman for his help, “his reaction was - I cannot take care of your safety. That he will leave me back to Singhu and will call me when the women doctors were here. That this wasn’t America etc etc.” The post continues: “doctor saahib didn’t ask for any details on what had happened? Who were the volunteers that had misbehaved/harassed? What did I want from this? If I was ok? Na? Nada! Nil! He only wanted to get rid of me. He also told me that he will personally leave me to Singhu border.” The survivor told me, “He didn’t even drop me at the Singhu border as assured and I had to take a train back home after waiting for a full day and spending two nights under the same roof as my abusers.”

Jatinder Kaur Tur is a senior journalist with two decades of experience with various national English-language dailies, including the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle.

Keywords: Farmers' Protest Tikri Border sexual harassment
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