She was 16 when she married a man from Rajasthan. Now 20, the case of sexual exploitation she filed against her husband and 16 others, including Union Minister of State Nihal Chand, comes up for hearing in a Jaipur court.
ESHA ROY travels to Sirsa in Haryana and Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan to listen to her story
There are two things that set the 20-year-old apart from the rest of the girls in her village. Her height — she stands tall at 5’8’’ — and her courage. “Woh to bahut himmatwali hai,’’ says 60-year-old Hanuman Shroff Ranjit, one of the elders in Abubshahar, a village in Sirsa district that sits on the cusp of Haryana and Rajasthan. It’s this “himmat”, they say, that got her to lodge a complaint of sexual exploitation against her husband Om Prakash Godara and 16 others, including BJP MoS for Chemicals and Fertilisers in the Narendra Modi Cabinet Nihal Chand Meghwal.
She was married off at the age of 16. “Because she is so tall, people in the village kept telling us to get her married. We were under a lot of pressure. She was independent even as a child and would cycle five kilometres to go to school. But in our villages, girls need to be married off and with her height, we were worried we wouldn’t find a match. Her father’s brother told us about Om Prakash, who was from Pilibanga in Rajasthan. Om Prakash told us he was a property developer and seemed very well-off. We were taken in. He seemed like a big man. We thought our daughter’s future was made, we thought this alliance would make her happy,’’ says her mother.
These days, she shuttles between her parents’ home in Abubshahar and her maternal uncle’s home in Sadulshahar that’s across the border in Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar district. “This is to ensure that she is safe. She spends three days here and three days with her maternal uncle. We have received threats from Om Prakash that he will abduct her and our other three daughters as well,’’ says her mother.
It’s day one of the girl’s three-day stay at Sadulshahar. She helps out in the household chores, clad in a pink salwar-kameez with a black border embellished with silver flowers that she has embroidered. It’s been two years since she first lodged an FIR against her husband. She was then a minor, she is now 20. A Jaipur court, acting on her revision plea, has asked the 17 people she accused, including Nihal Chand, to appear in court on August 20. She is calm, confident and defiant.
She married Om Prakash on December 20, 2010. She remembers the day well, she says. “The wedding happened in a rush. My father’s elder brother brought us the match. He (Om Prakash) came to see me one day along with some relatives. This is unusual in our community as the boy never comes himself. He agreed to the marriage and said we had to do it fast as he was very busy. We were married in 10 days. There were all these girls in his baraat who I was to never see again. Who knows, maybe he hired the girls to look like relatives,’’ she says.
She was to give her class XII examination. “He promised that he would help me finish my education but as soon as we were married, he took me to my in-laws in Pilibanga in Hanumangarh district and said there was no need for me to study. I stayed with them for two months before he took me to Jaipur,’’ she says.
That, she says, is when her ordeal began. “I went to Jaipur in February 2011. His behaviour had completely changed by then. I used to feel numb and lethargic all the time. One day, I spilt hot water on my hand, but felt no pain. I thought that was extremely odd. He would always serve me my food. One day, I pretended to have eaten, but threw the food away.
That night, his brother Raj Kumar tried to assault me. When I resisted, both the brothers beat me up. That’s when I realised what was happening — he had been drugging my food. I always wondered why he would keep the water he drank separate. I did have foggy memories of different men and bodies but couldn’t account for it. I would often wake up naked in bed and wonder what was happening. When I confronted the brothers and said I was leaving, they threatened to abduct my three sisters. From then on, they would keep me locked in a room in the flat where we were staying,” she says. The beating and abuse continued, she says. When Om Prakash left for work, she says, he would keep a matchstick on the lock of the door. If it had dropped by the time he got home in the evening, he would accuse his wife of trying to escape and beat her up, she says. Nihal Chand, she claims, was one of the men she remembers “who would visit me over and over again’’.
Despite several attempts, The Sunday Express could not talk to Nihal Chand. But in an earlier conversation with this paper, he had said, “Everyone knows what the truth is. I don’t need to explain.”
The girl says they would change homes every 15-20 days during the nine months she stayed with Om Prakash in Jaipur. They stayed in both flats as well as hotels. In her FIR lodged in November 2011, she has named Vaishali Nagar, Hotel Muskaan Palace near Polo Victory, Mansarovar, Hira Ladi, Niwaru Road, Jhodwada, Sodala bus stand area and Hanuman Nagar as some of the places they stayed in. All these places, she alleges, were fitted with CCTV cameras and her time with various men was videotaped. “He would make CDs of these sessions and then blackmail these men. That’s how he made his money,’’ she says. She alleges that Om Prakash would buy SIMs from a man called Prakash Garg and would change these regularly. “He kept the SIM cards near the string of the pyjamas that he wore,’’ she says.
In August 2011, her uncle (her father’s younger brother whom her mother had married after her husband’s death) came to meet her in Jaipur. “Om Prakash hadn’t let us meet our child in all these months. He finally called to say we could meet her. I went to Jaipur and he immediately accosted me. Both the brothers started beating me up and tied me to the bed at gunpoint and gave me electric shocks,’’ says the uncle.
He says that after four days of torture, during which he was locked up in a room while the girl was locked up in an adjacent room, Om Prakash made him say that he had illicit sexual relations with the girl and allegedly recorded the “forced confession”. “She then told me, ‘chacha, you leave. I will make sure I get out of here one of these days,’’ says the girl’s uncle.
After coming back to Abubshahar, the uncle informed the village elders and the Vishnoi community, to which both Om Prakash and the girl belong, of what had happened in Jaipur. The enraged villagers of Abubshahar then called a panchayat which was held at the nearby 21MOD village in Sri Ganganagar at the residence of BJP worker Vinod Dharniya. Dharniya, however, refused to comment on the panchayat meeting.
Hanuman Shroff was one of the elders of Abubshahar who attended the September 29 meeting in 21MOD village. He says that about 70 villagers from Sirsa arrived in cars at Dharniya’s residence. Om Prakash came with his wife and a cousin. “The girl said she wanted to come home with us. Om Prakash said he wouldn’t let her go. That’s when she was taken aside by her uncle without Om Prakash’s knowledge and she told him to take her away,’’ says Shroff. The girl was bundled into a car with her relatives and finally made her escape. When Om Prakash realised what had happened, he made his escape as well. “Woh to haath nahi laga, nahi to hum maar dete usko wahin par (We would have killed him if we had laid our hands on him),’’ says an angry Shroff.
Om Prakash subsequently lodged an FIR of kidnapping against his wife’s uncle and the panchayat members from Abubshahar. A number of these panchayat members were arrested based on his FIR but were later released on bail.
The girl was home safe but her legal battle had just begun.
On September 30, she approached the police station at Dabawli in Sirsa district to file an FIR against Om Prakash. She says the police refused to file a complaint of rape, so she filed an FIR of dowry harassment instead. “They told me since the incident (of rape) took place in Jaipur, I had to lodge an FIR there. I then went to the Shyam Nagar police station in Jaipur but they too refused to take my complaint,” she says.
Finally, in November 2011, the family, backed by the Vishnoi community, approached the local court which ordered that her complaint be registered. She made a statement before the court and then registered an FIR at Vaishali police station in Jaipur. She filed for a divorce on May 30 this year.
“I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. If my parents allow me, I will continue my studies. In these parts, we can’t say anything to our parents. Jo maa baap dhoondte hai usi ke saath zindagi nikal jaati hai. Jo ladkiyan baahar padne jaate hai unke bare me log alag alag baate karte hai (Whoever they chose for us is who we marry… people gossip about girls who go out to study),’’ she says.
Her family says they were threatened all along. Her uncle says Nihal Chand’s brother Lalchand had visited them at Abubshahar. “He had asked us to withdraw the case against Nihal Chand. The police only came once, two years ago, to ask about Om Prakash,’’ says her uncle who is a farmer and grows wheat and cotton on his land.
Her sisters say the family is pursuing the case only because she wants them to. “Didi told us that she was doing this so that other girls don’t suffer the way she did. Now that she is home, why should we be afraid of anything else,’’ says a sister, breaking down.
“She wants to study, so we will let her. It will be good if she gets a job, though girls in our village don’t work. Of course, she will have to remarry, but this time we will find her a good husband. We have been getting many proposals already. You see, yahan ladkiyon ki kamti hai (there is a shortage of girls here). Her past will not affect her chances,’’ says her mother.
The girl’s advocate in Sri Ganganagar Inderjit Singh Vishnoi alleges that they carried out their independent investigations within the Vishnoi community and found out that Om Prakash had been married once before. “His first wife was put through a similar ordeal. She eventually managed to get out of it. She had pressed charges and they settled out of court. She is now remarried and does not want to testify in the case,’’ says Vishnoi.
Speaking to The Sunday Express on phone from Behror in Alwar district, Om Prakash says the charges the 20-year-old has levelled against him are fabricated. “The police filed a closure report and the court upheld it — so this proves that she’s making up these allegations.” He, in turn, accused his wife’s uncle of having raped her in 2008 when she was around 14. “She told me about the rape and that she had had four abortions before our marriage,” he says.
He also said his first marriage broke due to “compatibility issues” and that they separated — “samajik taur se”. He says he first met Nihal Chand when he was a state executive in the BJP Yuva Morcha and the latter was the president.
Besides Nihal Chand, the girl’s FIR names a number of Congress men as well as an Assistant Commissioner of Police in Jaipur. “This is the reason why the police have been dragging its feet. They still haven’t recorded her statement under Section 164. We have been demanding a CBI investigation. We want a fair investigation, that’s all,’’ says Vishnoi.
The Vishnoi community held 12 meetings in the space of a month — January 2012 to February 2012 — to discuss the matter, he says.
Om Prakash, 34, belongs to a poor family in 2SGR in Pilibanga, Rajasthan. While he fixed property deals to make some money, his father, a retired class 4 government employee, now functions as the village beldar, making sure that water runs through the canal that waters the fields of the village. Om Prakash’s younger brother Raju was a hostel warden at a boarding school in Jodhpur but is now preparing to become a sports coach. While his parents are unlettered, Om Prakash did his BA from a college in Sri Ganganagar where he stayed for three years.
“My brother was always interested in politics. In college, he was attached to the ABVP,’’ says Raju. Om Prakash contested his first election in 2010, the year he got married, from Pilibanga and became the director of the panchayat samiti.
“He left for Jaipur soon after his graduation. He left with just Rs 10,000 in his pocket but made his money in the property business,’’ says Raju, adding that his brother was the first person from their village to go to Jaipur, let alone work there. He says his brother owns a house in Jhodwada in Jaipur and a Toyota Fortuner. His parents own a 5-acre plot in their village where they grow wheat.
Although modest, Godara Bhavan, Om Prakash’s home in 2SGR village, is still one of the more affluent houses. Freshly painted, there are two peacocks adorning either side of the gate. A villager says that now people gather to see which car Om Prakash arrives in whenever he visits.
According to the girl’s statement in court, Om Prakash owns a black Safari, a white Scorpio, a white Endeavor, a silver Verna, a white Gypsy and a blue Indigo. She says he had been lobbying for a ticket for the last Assembly elections from Suratgarh. “It didn’t matter to him whether he got a BJP ticket or a Congress one. He simply wanted power. That’s why he brought men from both the Congress as well as the BJP to me,’’ she says.