Neha had gone to fetch water when she was dragged to a public toilet by a boy, her neighbour, and raped. She spent the next few months doing the rounds of police stations, courts, hospitals and rehabilitation homes. At 14, she is now a mother and is too scared to step out of her house
“I am too scared to step out of my house. People still ask me ‘What happened that day?” asked Neha (name changed), her voice choking. “I want to go back to school. I want to study. I want to play with my friends.”
Neha is just 14, and a mother of a two-year-old boy. She gave birth on December 30, 2017 — she was just 12 then — at Ram Manohar Lohiya Hospital in Lucknow.
Neha, who lives in a village on the outskirts of Lucknow, had gone to fetch water from the village tank one afternoon when she was dragged to a public toilet by a boy, her neighbour, and raped. He threatened her not to tell anyone about it.
For four months, a petrified Neha kept it to herself. She revealed it when her mother started questioning her about her deteriorating health. By then it was too late for an abortion.
Neha spent the next few months doing the rounds of police stations, courts, hospitals and rehabilitation homes.
Neha lives with her mother and three brothers in a dilapidated home. Her father passed away when she was very young.
When I visited her at home, Neha was sitting on a cot with missing legs and supported by bricks. “There is no toilet in our home. I have to go to the fields to attend to nature’s call. I go either early in the morning or after the sun sets,” said Neha. “People still stare at me. They pass comments. They gossip. I don’t like it,” she said. “We don’t have enough money to rent a house elsewhere. We don’t have any other option but to live here.”
Neha spends her days locked up in the house. She has no friends; she does not go out to play. She stopped going to school. She steps out only when there is some important work or when she has to go to the court. Her mother accompanies her everywhere. Neha avoids making eye contacts. She fears that people will ask her uncomfortable questions. She is upset that people don’t let her forget the incident.
I first met Neha at Ram Manohar Lohiya Hospital. She was wearing her khaki-coloured school uniform. I was there when she delivered, her screams piercing through the labour room. I saw a twelve-year-old Neha hold her baby when there should have been books in her hands. Or toys.
Neha’s mother worked on daily wages for about 10-11 years but stopped after the incident. Her two elder brothers have moved out of the village for work and send money back home. She says her elder has stopped talking to her and that causes her a lot of anguish.
Her family is in penury, and the condition of their house is telling. It has two tiny rooms and 4-5 utensils. Rats have dug up a corner of a room and made a heap of mud. Her clothes are hanging on a clothesline. There are two cots, both missing some legs and supported by bricks, on which Neha, her mother and younger brother sleep. The government hasn’t provided them any accommodation. Her mother does not get any pension.
Before the incident, the house didn’t even have a door. Her mother managed to get a wooden door from one of the places she used to work. Strangely, a scribble with a white chalk on the door says jana mana hai (do not leave).
Neha often stands by this door and wonders when she would be able to go out and play with friends, or go to her school, or just laugh wholeheartedly.
Her mother is also heartbroken, and worried. “We belong to the lower caste and then this happened. We are so poor that we can’t even leave this house. The accused is out on bail. I am not sure whether he would be punished. I don’t care about that anymore. He has ruined my daughter’s life anyway.”
She added: “People blame me, they say I couldn’t look after my only daughter. Who will marry her now? She is already a mother. I know my daughter is not at fault, but because we are poor, people blame us.”
Neha wept uncontrollably when I asked her if she misses her son. I hugged her and let her cry. After a while, Neha said: “My boy was with me for three days after he was born. Later, they shifted me to a rehabilitation home and took my boy away. The girls over there urged me to look at my baby one last time, but I didn’t. I sat in a room and cried a lot.”
Neha stayed there for three months and then came back home. The child was taken to a government shelter home.
Neha went to the shelter home with her mother to see her son, but she was not allowed to. The home let her mother see the baby once. “My mother then spoke to me. After that I didn’t insist,” said Neha.
Neha again visited the shelter home in August. “They said someone has adopted him,” she said. “I wanted to keep him with me. But my life itself is difficult. How could I have taken care of him here? I want to run away to someplace where no one knows me.”
The accused is out on bail. Neha wants to see him behind bars. She has received a compensation of Rs 3 lakh from the government, which she can withdraw after she turns 18. But all this does not matter to her anymore.
“All I want is that people start talking to me and not ask me what happened that day. The boy should be severely punished so that he does not dare to do this to any other girl,” said Neha.
Neha’s mother is eager to get her married. “I want her to marry so that she can move from here and be happy. I am not sure who will marry her. People in the village who will marry a girl who is already a mother.”