THEME 2: SEXUAL VIOLENCE & HARASSMENT IS A WAY TO DENY ACCESS AND AGENCY TO DALIT WOMEN
CASE STUDY: COVID & SYSTEMIC FAILURES CREATE ADDITIONAL VULNERABILITEIS FOR DALIT
Gita (name changed)
Age of the survivor: 19
Gita, a 19 year old dalit girl, had tested positive for COVID-19 and was under treatment in Adoor, Kerala. Since she began showing symptoms, the doctors at the small health care facility in Adoor decided to shift her to a bigger more well-established facility, only 20 minutes away. .
Due to shortage of ambulances and burn-out amongst drivers, the contractors had been hiring drivers in haste, without background checks being done.Thus, Therefore,the accused, who is wanted in a culpable homicide case, was able to get a job as an ambulance driver. Gita and another 42-year-old woman who was COVID- positive were sent in the ambulance. The accused o dropped off the older lady first, and then took a detour to an empty plot in a deserted area.
All this while, Gita was in the enclosed back of the ambulance and had no clue where she was being taken. He stopped the car and forced himself on Gita, who was already weak and dizzy due to COVID.. Her screams echoed in the air but there was no one in the vicinity to react to her desperate pleas for help. The accused raped her repeatedly at the secluded spot and the girl had little strength to fight on. He then coldly drove the ambulance to the health care facility and left Gita there. He even apologised to her and told her not to reveal the incident and vanished. The survivor was in shock and incessantly sobbing as she narrated her ordeal to the health care staff at the hospital. They called the local police who traced the location of the ambulance and arrested the accused.
The incident sent shockwaves throughout Kerala and led to massive protests. The protests highlighted the alleged violation of protocol by the District Medical Office in sending a woman patient without an escort. There were also serious questions raised about the hiring of ambulance drivers without a proper background check. The State Women’s commission took suo moto cognisance of the matter and ordered strict action against the accused. But even as the process for justice was being scripted by the law, the survivor was struggling to deal with the trauma. In a month, she recovered from COVID and was sent back home, where she tried to commit suicide. While politics over the rape led to an exchange between the government and the opposition, the survivor is still struggling to come to terms with reality.