NEW DELHI: Belonging to the Bachhada community in Madhya Pradesh’s Neemuch district, Urmi (name changed), then 16, did not have many choices.
Opting for caste-based sex work in the highway ‘deras’ like her grandmother and mother was the ‘obvious’ choice, her relatives felt. Negotiating everyday violence as ‘normal’ eventually came naturally to her too.
Two years into the profession, a client married her, only to abandon her and their daughter a few years later.
She is among thousands of other sexual violence survivors who will participate in a dignity march demanding survivor-friendly policies in the capital on Friday. The 60-day march started in Mumbai.
Now, the 24-year-old works to identify girls from the Bachhada community in sex work and puts them back in schools.
Urmi’s grit and will to improve the lives of other survivors finds resonance in another survivor’s story.
“The rapist is living near by. I see him almost every day. I cannot get affected by him. There is no other way out but to get used to it,” says the survivor, a Dalit of the Chamar community who was brutally raped by an upper caste man over seven years ago. She recounts how she fought back and tried to beat up the perpetrator after the ordeal.
“The man even harassed my husband and beat him up. It will not deter me from leading my life,” she said.
The apathy of the judiciary and the police towards the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and Other Backward Classes impedes justice further, she added, recounting the time it took her to file an FIR and undergo the medical test.
Bhanwari Devi who was gang-raped in Rajasthan in 1992 and has remained an iconic fighter for women’s rights and justice over the decades says little has changed over the years.
“It is true that the next generation got the resolve to fight for justice after I campaigned on issues for years. But people also ostracised me due to societal pressure. Whatever happens, we need to be brave.”
“The police still have no sensitisation on how to deal with women coming with complaints of rape. The laws should not be to harass women,” she added.
“If a woman goes to the police and says she has been raped, her word should be taken for it,” she added.
According to a survey by NGO Jan Sahas, over 80 per cent of over 1,000 survivors of sexual violence in 14 states belong to the SC, ST and OBC categories.
The data shows that 28 per cent of the respondents belonged to Scheduled Castes (SC), 22 per cent belonged to Scheduled Tribes (ST), 33 per cent belonged to Other Backward Classes (OBC) Of the survivors, 14 per cent to the general category of population.
Of them, 92 per cent were women and eight per cent men