Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Sunday Story: Dabang Didi

Four years after she was assaulted, the 23-year-old wears only jeans and shirts, wields a revolver goes around settling disputes, notwithstanding the criminal complaints.

Written by Maulshree Seth |
July 12, 2015 12:00:00 am
Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi, BSP MLA, Banda rape case, Dwivedi arrested, BSP MLA arrested, Banda rape survivor, Dwivedi rape case, Sunday Story, indian Express She locked up all her salwar-kameezes, and now holds panchayat-like hearings to settle disputes between villagers. (Source: Express photo by Maulshree Seth)

At 23, she talks of death. And murders. “Ab hum marne se nahin darte. Thaan liye hain ki post-mortem ke liye humari body akeli nahin jayegi. Kam se kam 2-3 ko sath leke jayenge murda-ghar (I am not afraid to die now. I’ve resolved that mine won’t be the sole body to go to the mortuary; I will take at least two-three along with me),” she declares.

Her hair tied in a neat plait, she has on red-tinted sunglasses and a saffron tikka on the forehead. Chewing freshly cut supari, she adjusts her green shirt, tucks a smartphone in a pocket of her jeans, takes another, basic phone in the hand, and, throwing a white gamcha around her neck, calls out to her security detail, “Let’s go, quickly. Case aaya hai.”

Just before she steps out of her thatched mud house, she pushes a revolver into her waist belt.

From the time four and a half years ago that she accused then BSP MLA Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi of rape, not much has changed in her dusty Shahbazpur village, where most of the houses are still kuchcha, made of mud. Except her.

case

In these parts of Bundelkhand, a young woman moving with seven security personnel and her own licensed revolver, picking fights with officials and not hesitant to abuse those who defy her, is as good a symbol of power as it gets. Some fear her, others avoid her, but “sympathy” is no longer a word anyone uses for this rape victim who has chosen to not stay in oblivion.

With three complaints against her now, including two of “misbehaviour”, she says she didn’t have a choice but to change. “Agar hum aise nahin bante, toh kaat maar diye jaate (Had I not become like this, I would have been killed).”

Last month, a court sentenced Dwivedi to 10 years in jail for rape and ordered him to pay her Rs 50,000.

The 23-year-old is, meanwhile, planning to contest panchayat polls.

The “case” she is rushing to today is another call for help from a villager to settle differences. In Lodhin Purva, another hamlet of the same gram panchayat, two villagers are fighting over a piece of land.

Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi, BSP MLA, Banda rape case, Dwivedi arrested, BSP MLA arrested, Banda rape survivor, Dwivedi rape case, Sunday Story, indian Express

As she walks through the lanes of Shahbazpur, flanked by her seven police guards, people step out of their huts to look. “Dabang”, a few children call out; “didi”, shout others. She responds with a volley of expletives directed at some villagers, sending them back into their huts.

The security has been provided on the orders of the Allahabad High Court following reported threats from Dwivedi.

People in villages bordering Shahbazpur too seek her help. Often they send own vehicles to get her.

Confident her “reputation is established in and around Shahbazpur” now, she believes it is time for politics. After contestiing the panchayat elections later this year, she hopes to join the Congress. “I spoke to Ritaji (Congress leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi) recently, told her my wish to join the party. I also asked her if the party could fund my campaign for the panchayat polls,” she says.

The one party that is definitely out of the picture is the BSP, though it continues to have the loyalty of most of her family, belonging to the backward Nishad caste. Shahbazpur, located 85 km from Banda town, is an OBC-dominated village. “Not a single person from the BSP visited me (when she was briefly in jail). They didn’t offer any support either,” she says.

The Samajwadi Party offered her Rs 2 lakh, the Congress Rs 3 lakh.

She spent most of that compensation on furnishing her house. That one-room kuchcha space now has a refrigerator, a cooler, an almirah, a double-bed and a double-burner gas stove, apart from photographs of deities on walls. “I am a religious person and fast twice a week, when I only have water,” she says.

But her most expensive purchase has been her licensed revolver, which she bought for Rs 1 lakh last year.

***

She was 18 when, in December 2010, her father, a small-time farmer, sent her to Banda to work as a domestic help at the home of then MLA Dwivedi. “He told my father he would be my guardian till he found a suitable match for me. He also promised to pay for my wedding,” she says.

A few days later, she says, “he came to my room at night”. “I tried to run, but he overpowered me. His wife protested too.” She claims Dwivedi raped her on December 11, 2010, and tried to assault her again on the night of December 12-13. “I escaped late that night to my village.”

She claims Dwivedi tried to “console” her saying he would marry her off to one of his servants.

After she ran away, Dwivedi’s men accused her of stealing Rs 5,000, a cellphone and clothes from his house. She was arrested and sent to judicial custody.

“I was bleeding. Still, policemen beat me ruthlessly before putting me in jail. A lady constable asked me to sit at a distance, saying I was stinking,” she says.

In court, she accused Dwivedi of raping her. The police then filed a complaint against the MLA, who was suspended by the BSP after the case rocked the Uttar Pradesh Assembly.

It was in prison that she got her strength, she says. During the one month that she spent in Banda jail, from December 2010 to January 2011, she became friendly with a prison employee. “She was the first to ask me why I was bleeding. She taught me how to use a sanitary napkin. She also told me not to sign any paper until I appear in court.”

She came to regard prison as “the safest place”, she says. “When the Allahabad High Court ordered my release, I was not ready to move out. They had to force me out.”

Her apprehensions proved correct when she returned home to Shahbazpur. Some villagers were sympathetic, but many believed she was in the wrong. She would cry for hours, locked up and alone.

After a few days, she decided she had had enough.

She went to Banda town and bought herself a pair of jeans and some shirts. “I decided not to hide in shame. One can die only once, not again and again,” she says.

Villages in the region — one of the poorest and most backward in country — abound with similar cases, of strongmen assaulting and kidnapping girls.

The first time the villagers saw her in her new attire, without her usual salwar-kameez and veil, they were in shock.

But she had bigger surprises in store as she started seeking out “cases of torture related to women and girls”. In the last four years, she claims to have solved “a case a day”, “mostly related to harassment of women by in-laws, or of young girls by boys”.

She says she has perfected her “swagger” as a safety mechanism, to ensure villagers keep their distance. If anybody comes too close, she wields her other weapon — choicest of expletives — startling them away.

Gearing up for a political career now, she is planning to hire a tutor. “I can’t write and can hardly read,” she says, adding that she was forced to drop out of school after Class IV. “I had to cook and take care of my three younger brothers after my mother died following a miscarriage. No one took her to the hospital when she bled. I want to work for women like her,” she says.

The one person not impressed is her father. She lives with her younger brother, while her father and two other brothers stay a few houses away.

“I am angry with my father as he did not stand up for me. He neither visited me in jail nor offered me support, and still praises the BSP. I don’t meet or talk to him, I can take care of myself,” she says. She also claims to have helped build the pucca house in which he stays, though he denies this, saying it was built with money sanctioned by BSP chief Mayawati under the state government’s housing scheme.

Talking about his daughter’s “ways”, he expresses “helplessness”. “I don’t know what to do or say. Some people come to me seeking help. Others complain about her language. I am respected in this area,” he says. “She is my daughter, I want the best for her.”

He also continues to stick by the BSP. “Why should I blame behenji (Mayawati) or the BSP for what happened to my daughter? They ousted the MLA. BSP leaders may not have met me openly after this incident, but they would console me in private,” he claims.

***

Lodhin Purva village, her destination today, is a 5-km bumpy ride on a van. As soon as she gets off, Ompati Lodh, a middle-aged woman, falls at her feet to greet her. She also calls out to her husband, who comes running frantically from his field. Touching her feet, he tells “didi” about a family dispute and requests her to settle it. Didi has come for another case, so she only responds with a nod, signalling she will get back to him.

Ompati looks awe-struck. “A woman was assaulted by some men in a neighbouring village and no one would register her case. But didi went with her to the collector and got the case registered. She is a dabang,” she says.

Daddu, who has called her to settle the land dispute, is waiting a few metres ahead. As soon as the elderly farmer sees her, he lays out a stringed cot for her. She sits down, and is offered supari and sondh (dried ginger).

Having heard out the case, she holds back on her “verdict”, telling them to come to the tehsil office the next day. “I assure you, justice will be done,” she says.

As she gets up, she directs a volley of curses at the gram pradhan, accusing him of creating differences among villagers. It’s a build-up to her announcement that she herself plans to contest the polls. Her audience doesn’t know how to react.

But the murmurs of disapproval begin as soon as she leaves. “She is immature. She feels powerful because of her security. Some people fall for all this drama, but for how long?” says a villager.

As she displays her political ambitions, she can expect that disapproval to grow.

At Shahbazpur, a woman, not wishing to be named, scowls at her mention. “She was not like this before. No other girl in the village wears jeans and shirts.” Scorn making way for fear, she adds, “We are poor people and would rather not talk about her. Speak to the gram pradhan.”

Raj Kumar Yadav, the pradhan, accuses her of undermining his authority. “She can say anything, anywhere, but we cannot. If she stands before officials, they listen to her first. What can we do? We dare not get near her.”

The first to lodge a complaint against her was Phool Chand Ahirwar, in January 2013. He accused her of barging into his house to resolve a dispute over drainage and assaulting his family members when they refused to accept her settlement. The police filed a chargesheet in the case.

Then, on April 16 this year, the day of her brother’s wedding, Ram Chand, a constable in her security, filed a non-cognisable report against her, accusing her and her father of “forcing him to work like a servant”. His seniors pulled him out of her security detail immediately and have sought permission from the court to investigate the case.

The other seven police escorts — four men and three women — claim to be equally unhappy. “In the name of settling public issues, she abuses people. She is very immature. We can’t interfere, but have to ensure she doesn’t get hurt,” says Assistant Sub-Inspector Bhagwan Das, the senior most member of her security detail.

A junior policeman, who didn’t want to be named, calls it “punishment posting”. “There is no proper place to live, we have to live under a shed and sleep on the cots provided by the government,” he says.

On April 24 came the third complaint against her. Baba Deen Nishad of Raja Ka Purva village filed a complaint accusing her and her brother of barging into his house and damaging property during his son Vishwaraj’s wedding. A chargesheet has been filed in the case.

Mention the last case, and her guard drops just a little. Baba Deen Nishad is a distant relative on her mother’s side and, according to her, Vishwaraj and she once hoped to marry. After the assault on her, Nishad and Vishwaraj continued to visit her house and console her father.

“Vishwaraj promised to take care of me. He is doing his BA from Panna in Madhya Pradesh and would speak to me on the phone for hours and visit me. We also talked of life after marriage. But he was not bold enough to stand up to his parents who were against our match,” she claims.

She doesn’t deny disrupting Vishwaraj’s wedding. “So, what should I have done? Tell me!” she shouts back.

One of the “cases” that comes to her is of a Yadav family from neighbouring Marka Tindwari village. Their daughter was to marry a boy of the same village, and the family says they gave the future in-laws money, a gold ring and clothes during the engagement. With the wedding called off, the girl’s family wants her to either recover their money or to ensure that the boy goes ahead with the marriage.

She assures them she will “get the job done”.

While she finds security in dressing up like a man, reserving the salwar-kameezs only for functions, she admits being envious of newly wed brides in their finery. However, after what happened with Vishwaraj, she has resolved to “never marry”.

Insisting that her “work” gives her “a great sense of pride and satisfaction”, she reveals what is her “dream” now: owning a pistol. “I have heard it is lighter and more beautiful than a revolver. Carrying a revolver is difficult, I have to leave it at home at most times.”

She knows people could be talking behind her back. “But why should I listen to them? Did they listen to my pleas when I came here running from Banda, after I was raped? I would have been killed that very night and my body would have been rotting in a corner like many other girls in this region,” she says.

That could happen still, she believes. But if it does, she repeats, “I will not go to the mortuary alone.”

‘She has become a nuisance’

In January 2013, Phool Chand Ahirwar, a small farmer of neighbouring village Raja Ka Purva, filed an FIR, accusing the 23-year-old of entering his house forcibly over a dispute on drainage and beating up his father, wife and him, when they refused to accept her settlement. She got bail later.

Says Ahirwar, “We are poor and prefer to stay away from police and court. But she left us with no option… She has become a nuisance. We have to cross her village to reach the tehsil and in case she comes across any of us, she still starts abusing or teasing.”

Ram Chand, who was part of her security detail, was the second person to complain against her. A constable, he filed a non-cognisable report against her on April 16 this year, the day of her brother’s wedding.

Now attached to Banda Reserve Police lines, Chand says, “All the limelight has gone to her head. She treats her security as servants or something to show off. Her father wanted me to lead her brother’s marriage procession. I told him I was in her security and not to add to their marriage show. She started abusing me.”

K N Singh, SHO of Naraini Police Station, Banda, under which her village falls, says, “It has been difficult for policemen in her security. For example, in the case of her barging into a villager’s house, policemen were present with her but did not know what to do.”

People of her village now avoid talking about her. Gram pradhan Raj Kumar Yadav, among the few who does, is cautious. “All our sympathies are with her, but she has become trouble herself. She thinks she can solve people’s issues but what she does not understand is that people just call her so that her security reaches their doorstep. That is a big thing in the village, to have a policeman at your doorstep.”

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