“Do you think it is advisable?” Ramesh questioned his wife Sita.
“Of course. I don’t see any other option,” sighed Sita.
Ramesh looked at their five daughters who were sleeping peacefully in their shanty, which was too small to accommodate a family of seven. The girls’ limbs entwined with each other.
Their slum was situated close to the riverbed, and therefore the cool breeze during the nights brought relief during such hot days.
It was past midnight, but sleep had evaded them.
Sita spoke in a hushed tone, “The aanganwadi (daycare) didi is of the same opinion. The didi of the bungalow where I work as a housemaid also asserted the same. She even advised approaching a women’s NGO.”
“What about our other daughters’ dignity? Will they get married?”
“Why not? Poonam is not at fault.”
“But our neighbours are pointing fingers at her.”
“They have gone nuts and stopped talking to us. Can’t they see, she is just a budding flower? I don’t care what they think.”
“But they are forcing us to vacate.”
“Huh…they should be suggesting this to his family.”
“Let us leave. I do not like this place anymore.”
“Vacating is no solution. I want justice. Instead, let’s send Poonam to your mothers’ place till things settle here.
“The case will go for several years.”
Sita went and sat near Poonam, her third daughter. She had named her Poonam as she was as beautiful as the full moon. Little did she know what her beauty would cost her.
She looked at Poonam’s innocent face and lovingly caressed her hair. She wiped the droplets of sweat on her forehead with her pallu (saree-end) and kissed her. Tears welled up in her eyes while she whispered, ”I’ll see to it that you get justice.”
Ramesh stared at her dejectedly, “How did this catastrophe happen?”
“I go to work at the bungalows along with our elder daughters. Your income as a labourer is not sufficient to feed our mouths. The two little ones had gone to your mothers’ place for a few days. So after school, Poonam was alone at home for some time.
“Rajan is our neighbour. I never expected something like this from him.”
“The bastard took advantage of our daughter’s innocence”, scowled Sita. “I want him behind bars. If he is not punished, then he will commit such a heinous crime again. He is a rapist! That scoundrel has impregnated my 12-year-old daughter!”, she sobbed uncontrollably.
Ramesh took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. “OK. We’ll go to the police station tomorrow and file a case”, he agreed finally.
Rajan was sentenced to an imprisonment of 12 years under section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. Poonam and her family were awarded a compensation of rupees one lakh. But, the people of their slum area still blame Poonam.
Author’s note: This story is based on a real incident. However, the names of the characters have been changed.
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