A woman who was gang raped for eight months in Gujarat, western India, is now not only pregnant as a result, but has been ordered to face “purification tests” by her community’s local courts. The BBC’s Ankur Jain reports on what this gruelling ritual will entail and why it is still endured.
The shy, softly spoken 23-year-old – who cannot be named for legal reasons – was living happily with her husband and two children in Surat when she was abducted last July and repeatedly gang raped by more than five men over several months.
She is now heavily pregnant and her petition for abortion was turned down by the Gujarat High Court because she was too advanced in her pregnancy.
Now, staying in a two-room house in Devaliya village, Ranpur Taluka, Gujarat, she spends her time with her two children. Her in-laws refuse to take her back and her husband has left his parents to be with her. But she spends all her time with the children, snuggling them and holding them tight.
And while her own parents are glad to have her back, they are concerned that the baby she is soon to give birth to will affect the rest of the family.
“I have two other children both unmarried. If she delivers the baby and keeps it then no one will marry them,” explained her mother. “My 14-year-old son will get cast out. The only way out is that she will have to undergo the ‘chokha thavani viddhi’ (purification ritual) and whatever the community decides will be final.”
The role of barley seeds
Such a ritual is limited to the villages of Gujarat’s Devipujak community, to which the victim belongs.
The Devipujak group follows a strong caste and religious system and has its own community courts which decide on various matters including infidelity and rape.
It is not clear whether these hearings are condoned or condemned by the authorities, but they have never been investigated by the police.
An elder from the village, Odhabhai Devipujak, explained that a purification ritual is conducted by a tantric – a priest who practices black magic and believes in supernatural powers – and predates the existence of courts and police.
In the ritual, the tantric asks the girl several questions and then checks if she is telling the truth by taking a pinch of barley seeds from a bag and asking her to say whether the number of seeds in his hand are even-numbered or odd.
If the girl gets the answer wrong then the tantric assumes her answers have been lies.
She then has to repeat the process with a 10-kg stone on her head. She has to keep the stone on her head until the tantric is satisfied that she is telling the truth.
“Sometimes it takes months to purify as people lie initially but Goddess knows it all and finally they have to speak the truth,” the elder said.
“Once the girl is purified and passes the test no-one can point fingers or banish her and her family. But if the girl fails the test and Goddess says she is impure then she might get ostracised from the community,” he said.
Sardarsinh Mori, a friend of the victim’s family, said such tests were only carried out on women.
“Whenever a husband has doubt about his wife, or an unmarried girl is accused of an affair, to purify a woman and free her from the wrongdoings, a purification process is conducted. For men, the community courts conduct tests to check if they are telling lies but no purification is used,” he explained.
The victim’s husband, a cart-puller, said he would stand by her.
“I am going to be with her. I have two children and I can’t marry again,” he said.
The victim said part of her wanted to keep the unborn child, but her fate and the baby’s was in the hands of 100-200 people taking part in the purification ritual.
“If I am wrong, the Goddess will tell them,” she said.
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SOURCE: BBC NEWS