8 December 2012 | by The Petticoat Journal | JAIPUR
If you give her your card with an email id, she smiles and says, “I don’t know computer.” If you ask for her number, she fetches a small worn out slip from her bag with a list of phone numbers on it. Even as you look at it confused, she points out that the one written beside “Bhateri” (her village) is the number you can contact her on.
Bhanwari Devi is a simple woman from a remote Rajasthan village. But when she rose to speak before a colourful gathering of hundreds of women, and a few men, at the launch of the Rajasthan chapter of One Billion Rising in Jaipur on 10 December, you could feel the current that at once electrified the crowd. The thrilled applause that followed is a patent of the very few privileged people. And she is no less.
She is a hero in these vibrant environs corrupted by social malpractices as she continues her fight against child marriage, girl child abuse, female foeticide, and violence against women.
Twenty years back, even as the villagers stopped water and ration supply to her family to express their anger over her fight against child marriage, one evening, the uncle-nephew duo of Gyarsa Gurjar and Badri Gurjar along with three other men, raped her after beating her husband unconscious. The 2000 movie Bawandar (The Sand Storm), in which Nandita Das played Bhanwari Devi, brought her case to the limelight.
Although her legal battle culminated into the popular ‘Vishaka Judgement’, after all these years, she awaits justice as her case rusts and dusts in some corner of a forgotten bunker of a corroded system. Her fight for women’s rights keeps getting stronger by the day as she moves ahead with dead hope for justice in her own case.
Bhanwari Devi, in her first ever media interview talks to Shruti Kohli about her case, the changes in her village and the general indifference of the authorities concerned especially the women in power.
Shruti Kohli: You have been fighting for women’s rights for over two decades. Do you see some good change?
Bhanwari Devi: Initially, nobody came out. Everybody was scared. I fought for a nine-year-old girl who was being married. Then they became aware. Why should we spoil someone’s life? The government and the collector ordered against the marriage of such a small girl. They forbid child marriage and dowry. We established an aangan vaadi. Things are in place now and people are really getting aware. But the first step won’t help if the journey stops there. We want complete justice.
Shruti: What about the various relevant laws like the ones against domestic violence etc? Are they efficient? Are people aware?
Bhanwari Devi: There are many laws. But for women and girls, there’s no law. Besides, the loads of laws that exist are not implemented properly. Women are abducted …Smart girls, small girls…are picked up. Now look at this case. One woman, who stood for sarpanch elections against a male opponent, was abducted by the latter and his gang to prevent her from contesting the elections.
She gathered the courage to come to me for help and I asked her what had happened. She told me that the men had scared her in a bid to suppress her. This woman was educated so she said what’s the use of all the education if I have to live in fear? She said, “why should I live in fear?”
Because of this young woman’s efforts and courage, the man was produced before the authorities and he was thoroughly beaten up. I want to fight for all sorts of issues concerning women and girl children. They don’t spare anyone. Even 4-5 days old girls are killed. What more, they kill them even before they are born! Female foeticide is widespread. I am fighting for this.
Men get drunk, and then abuse and hit women. The government should shut all liquor shops. Why is so much water being supplied to these shops? This water can be used elsewhere for more productive things. Electricity… so much electricity is consumed by these shops and why? Only to promote violence! The supply should be stopped and their licences should be seized. This would help stop atrocities and violence against women.
I want equal rights for everybody. The rights that are there for men should also be for women. The son and daughter should be treated equally. Both should be treated equally. I fight for such equality. The onus lies on the government to ensure such equality. Women labourers are paid less than their male counterparts. Why?
They make us work like men but when it comes to paying us back and giving us rights, women get nothing. Shops and companies are opening up everywhere. But women are getting no benefit of it. Our incomes are way below what men get. Give us our rights! We deserve it! I’m fighting for this.
Shruti: Do women, who are at the receiving end, go to the police?
Bhanwari Devi: Yes, they go to the police. But the police ignore their cases. Some officials are good. But most don’t care about these (violence against women) issues. We are fighting but we don’t get justice. They go to the police but the case is ignored. My case has also been ignored. The judge who noted my version of the case, was good.
Shruti: What about the mentalities of people?
Bhanwari Devi: There is change. Rapes have gone down remarkably. But I feel that men and women both should contemplate. If violence is happening, women should not run away…bash him up right there and report the matter. If you take violence and oppression, you’ll attract more of it. We as women don’t lack anything. We have a lot of courage. The only thing we lack is the will to express this courage.
Why should you give away your courage to others? Make use of it! Five-seven women get together and chase the offenders away! What will the government authorities do? They will take favours from this side also and that side also and do nothing to give justice.
Shruti: But it should be different nowadays when women are at top, powerful positions.
Bhanwari Devi: Most women are not sensitive to these issues. If that was the case, we would be living in a different world right now. Women holding powerful and influential positions should help other women who are fighting hard against oppression and atrocities. They should give this priority over their other engagements. Then we will see some remarkable change happening. This will boost the cause and motivate other women to fight with courage.
Regarding domestic violence, I would like to say only one thing that men and women should have equal relationship at home. I am against dowry! Dowry is the murderer of daughters.
Shruti: Tell us about your case.
Bhanwari Devi: My case is lying here in Jaipur. You know Mohini Giri jiji. She appealed here in Jaipur. But nothing has happened after that. Delhi has bigger courts…High Court, Supreme Court. The case should be taken there. It’s been twenty years and the case is lying in this state where there is no justice. I haven’t got justice. Will they give me justice when I am dead and gone? Or maybe not even then. The government and authorities should conduct a detailed enquiry into my case and all such cases and the wrongdoers should be punished. I should get justice and all my sisters should also get justice. Why is the government lax? The appeal should be taken to Delhi. Do it! I am ready for it!
Shruti: What about media?
Bhanwari Devi: Media has helped me a lot. Even twenty years back they fought for me…the newspapers, TV channels and radio…all of them. But the government is still not giving me justice. There should be immediate justice…
(This interview was recorded in Marwari, the language Bhanwari Devi speaks, and later translated to English at The Petticoat Journal. Language experts with strong commend over both the languages, worked on the translation to make sure that details are not lost in the course of it.)
If you, or a woman or women around you, are subject to domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other atrocities at home or anywhere else, here is what you can do.Know more