In the summer of 2013, a 16-year-old young woman, who lived with her grandparents in Jaunpur, in Uttar Pradesh, visited her parents in Thane, near Mumbai, for the first time. The young woman had lived in Jaunpur since she was six months old—her mother, pregnant with a second child at the time and unable to take care of her daughter, had handed her over to her grandparents. Through her childhood, the young woman told me, she had dreamt of visiting Mumbai—a big city—where she could play with her siblings and be pampered by her ma and baba. She told me she had seen her father only once before—when she was about six years old, he had visited Jaunpur for a relative’s wedding. “Ma would come for a few days and return to Mumbai. It was never like a mother visiting her daughter, but like a guest visiting you during vacations,” she said. In 2013, she went to Mumbai, excited to meet her parents and siblings. Less than a year later, in April 2014, she filed a complaint at the Rabale police station, in Thane district, accusing her father of raping her five times since she came to stay with her parents. More than two years later, in December 2016, a Special Court established under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) acquitted her father, and directed that perjury proceedings be initiated against her.
That summer vacation changed everything for the then 16-year-old complainant. “This was supposed to be just a month-long visit and I was to return to Jaunpur to prepare for my board exams,” she told me, when I met her on 26 February 2017. But in Thane, she added, her father told her to stay back. Since the filing of the complaint, in April 2014, the complainant has been staying with her aunt and uncle—the mother’s younger sister and her husband. Her uncle, who is associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)—a prominent Hindu nationalist group—arranged a meeting between the complainant and me at the Thane district office of the VHP. The complainant and I were taken to a small room inside the office, where we spoke for over an hour, while her uncle and another VHP member guarded the room.
According to the complainant, her father raped her five times in the months between August 2013 and April 2014. The complainant resided with her family in a small pukka house in the slums of Navi Mumbai. On 1 March 2017, I went to the address stated in the judgment, but found that her family had vacated it. The house comprised one room with a mezzanine floor. The complainant had told me her father would wait for her siblings to climb up the mezzanine floor to sleep and her mother—ailing with multiple health complications—to consume her sleeping pill. He would then allegedly gag her and rape her. “Woh kehte, agar kissi ko bataogi toh sab ko maar dunga”—He would say, if you tell anybody, I will kill everyone, the complainant told me in between quiet sobs.
On 28 April, the complainant told me, a neighbor entered their house when she heard her mother crying. But when the neighbour attempted to speak to the complainant’s mother, her mother snapped at her. The next day, the complainant continued, the neighbour spoke to the complainant. When the neighbour met her, the complainant had stormed out of her house crying, following an argument with her mother. During this interaction, the complainant said she told the neighbour about the alleged incidents of rape. The neighbour immediately informed the complainant’s grandparents and took her to the Rabale police station, in Thane distrisct, to register a complaint.
In her complaint, the complainant stated the circumstances of her allegations in detail: she stated that her father raped her five times, and that the first incident occurred on August 2013 and another on Rama Navami—a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of the Hindu god Rama, which fell on 8 April in 2014. The complainant described these in detail. She elaborated on how her father would send her mother and siblings out of the house and commit the offence, and the circumstances that led up to the filing of the complaint. However, in November 2016, when she was summoned to depose before the court, the complainant faltered, and the consequences were unforgiving.