In India, where a deep stigma is still piled on a rape survivor today, here is a man who daily tries to undo years of patriarchy and conditioning and learn what is right.
IIn 2012, Jitender Chhattar, a former khap leader from Haryana’s Jind district, commented on how eating “chowmein” leads to hormonal imbalance that ultimately leads to “rape urges”.
This made national headlines and became a national conversation after the student’s brutal rape and murder in Delhi on how to treat women and how to address the country’s rape crisis.
Jitender was just one of many khap leaders who made bizarre statements, like others who said that wearing women’s jeans and using cell phones led to rape.
But what sets Jitender apart from his contemporaries is his willingness to change his perceptions and grow as an individual.
Jitender is a whole new, different person now. Six years ago, Pooja (name changed to protect her identity) was raped. She married Jitender five years ago. And since then he has worked tirelessly to bring her justice.
Here is a man who daily strives to undo years of patriarchy and conditioning and learn about what is right.
Break the fortress of the patriarchy
Haryana is notorious for female feticides and its gender ratio, 920 girls per 1,000 boys, is the result of that. How Per Haryana, the State Crime Record Bureau, records one rape every other day and five rapes every day. And these are only the ones that are actually reported.
Crimes against women plague the rural areas of the state, not to mention the presence and dominance of Khap Panchayats.
Jitender, the son of a farmer, grew up in the same society in which the role of women is limited to childbirth and housekeeping. Although his views were influenced by society, there was a difference in his upbringing.
“My mother is a very strong woman who believes that men and women are equal in the eyes of God. She never treated my sister less than me. We were encouraged to think independently and do the right thing. I knew somewhere that my statement from 2012 was wrong on so many levels, and I wanted to undo it with my actions, ”says Jitender Better India.
What followed was working with Thua Khap Panchayat to raise awareness against female feticides in 24 villages of Jind. He was also actively involved in educating men about feminism and respecting women.
Jitender is also an active member of Youth Against Rape, an informal organization made up of lawyers, citizens and social activists in Haryana. From free legal advice to helping women submit FIRs to raising awareness among schools about legal rights, the organization is gradually breaking the shackles of patriarchy in the villages.
“Most women fear using legal means to obtain justice because of the social stigma and lack of awareness. We run workshops in schools and villages to educate boys and girls about self-defense and how the law can help them from an early age. In this way, both sexes are informed of the effects of their actions. Jitender was an active part of this organization. He is very vocal about women’s issues and often gives his own life example, ”says Darshan Dhanda, lawyer and member of the organization Better India.
Marry a rape survivor
Main aapke layak nahi hu aap chahe toh yeh shaadi death acts hai. Mera gang rape hua tha jab main 19 hall ki thi aur yeh shayad aapki parivar ki ijjat ke liye acha nahi hoga
(I don’t deserve you. You can cancel the wedding if you want. I was 19 when I was raped, and that may not be good for your family’s honor.)
When Pooja fearlessly revealed her past a few weeks before their engagement, Jitender was speechless for a few minutes and then left the room.
An hour later the unimaginable happened. Jitender agreed to look beyond her story and promised her parents that they would get justice for their daughter.
“When she told me about the incident, I never questioned or wanted to question her actions for a second. They were the ones to be ashamed and punished. I didn’t want to let them take something special from us. “
He refused to resign, even after receiving death threats for marrying Pooja. To make a statement, he invited the entire village to all ceremonies.
Five years after their marriage, the two have become best friends who support each other unconditionally. There is mutual love and respect. But the best part about their unbreakable bond is the will to grow as an individual and never give up.
“We respect each other’s privacy and fight and support each other like friends. I dropped out of college after the gruesome incident, but at Jitender’s insistence, I graduated with an art degree after getting married, ”says Pooja.
Fight for justice
Pooja’s perpetrators took photos and videos of her during and after the rape and threatened to release her if she went to the police. They committed the heinous crime for a year and a half until she finally turned to the police and filed an FIR.
However, the officer handling her case also raped her on the pretext of helping her. Pooja no longer trusted the legal system and decided to leave it all behind until Jitender insisted that they fight for justice.
It’s been five years since they filed a new FIR and very little has changed. They are still running from pillar to post filing appeals and FIRs against the prosecutors, doing myriad follow-ups, facing endless financial burdens, and struggling to fill gaping gaps in Indian criminal justice.
Intimidation of survivors and their families, as well as manipulation of evidence, are the two main problems the duo have fought vigorously.
“We have received death threats and out-of-court settlements several times. We are scared every time we visit the farm. The journey from our house to the farm is terrifying and we always have the feeling that our vehicle is under attack. They stood up to me by filing false cases. Meanwhile, the political connections of the defendants have influenced the evidence. Several photos and videos were deleted by the police due to pressure. This undermined the process against Pooja significantly, ”says Jitender.
Pooja also points out that court cases have been biased on certain occasions. Two of the lawyers they hired were bribed to lose the case.
“I have given my testimony countless times and been called even when I was pregnant. Either the defendant would be on bail, his lawyer would be late, or there would be no evidence. I recently visited the court with my toddlers to find out that we had a new appointment. I have very little hope in the judiciary. ”
Instead of being demoralized by these unfortunate events, Jitender studied law to better understand the process: “The district court acquitted the defendants only because they bought our lawyer and he manipulated evidence. As a non-professional and full-time litigator, I had to sell two pieces of my farmland to feed us and hire a better lawyer. ”
Several appeals, attorneys, and court visits later, the case is currently being filed with the Chandigarh High Court against lead accused Neeraj, along with an appeal to re-examine the entire case.
To fight the case, the couple hired Amanpal, a Chandigarh criminal defense attorney.
Justice can still be a long way off. But the couple, who are parents to two children, are not in the mood to give up just yet.
“We could either go ahead and accept a fresh start or we could fight the long battle with no guaranteed results. We have embarked on the challenging path with unconditional trust in the judiciary. We did not want to be an example that confirms the lawlessness of our country. We want to be the ones who have given hope and courage to every sexual assault survivor. We will not allow these perpetrators to get away easily, ”say Jitender and Pooja.
Even as the couple awaits justice, it is clear that their unwavering solution has helped them overcome difficulties such as threats, political pressure, financial loss, and a fast pace of the courts. And that’s really something.
Edited by Gayatri Mishra
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