A low caste potter woman from a small village in Rajasthan, working as a “Saathin” (a friend some who can guide) in her village trying to help women deal with their everyday problems like water, land, health and education at a grassroot level. She was known for her work in the case of an attempted rape of a women as well as her support to the anti child marriage campaign in Rajsathan. It was part of job to stand for women yet when she became a victim she found herself alone such is the reality of life.
At Akha Teej 1992, a day which is considered most auspicious for marriages in Rajasthan she should next to Deputy Suprintendent of Police (DSP) and SDO to stop the marriage of an infant daughter of a powerful village man, the marriage was stopped that day but eventually took place two days later and along with also took place an event which changed Bhanwari Devi’s life. Five villagers attacked her and her husband when they were working in the fields and when she tried to interfere they gang raped her.
She reported the rape to the block level worker who took her to the district police station to lodge an FIR, however the DSP there refused to believe her story and sent her for an examination to Primary health centre where there were no female doctors available to do the test, however such was her determination to get justice that she asked the male doctor to do the examination who refused and sent her to Jaipur for the examination with a chit requesting a medical examination “confirming age of victim”. At the Jaipur hospital too she faced disappointment as the doctor said he needed a magistrate’s order to perform the test. Eventually the test was performed after 48 hours of the alleged rape. She was also asked to submit her lehenga as an evidence and she walked back to the nearest village which was about 3kms away at 1 am in the night wrapping her husband’s gamcha around her to protect her modesty.
The case did get some local media attention as it came for hearing though she was accused of making up the whole story and was standing against the whole village. She was also offered monetary compensation to withdraw the case which she refused and that resulted in brothers, elder son and the inlaws cutting all ties with her. So now she stood alone just with the support of her husband seeking for justice. The case went on the judges changed and sixth judge released the accused pronouncing them not guilty. He even mentioned that the upper caste man could not have raped a Dalit. After this judgment victory rallies were organised in the city and Bhanwari Devi was called a lair.
However the state government decided to help Bhawnari by filing an appeal against the judgement. This was the time the case also caught the attention of national media and a nation wide campaign was launched to support her. 15 years later she did get justice but by that two of the accused were already dead. What do they “Justice delayed is justice denied”
She has received many awards for extra ordinary courage which include Neeraj Bhanot memorial award and an invitation to be a part of World Conference on Women in Bejing
Jag Mundhra also made a film on her story called Bawandar which starred Nandita Das as Bhanwari Devi
Bhawanri Devi is a story of an ordinary woman with extra ordinary courage to stand for justice and against violence and torture that inspires us all
And with that Stree Shakti draws to a close
For the span of these past eight days, eight because this year we have had eight days of Navratri, ironically, we have brought you stories of women who have refused to be victims. Women who have risen above the abuse, the violence, the victimisation, fought back and empowered themselves. Women who have become, either global or regional icons for other women in similar situations.
Our effort has been to not just talk about the violence and abusive situations women might find themselves in, but also about how a woman can tap into her inner strength and gather the courage to fight back, to fight for justice, to declare through their actions that they are not willing to accept victimhood.
We hope that through their stories, you have been inspired, enthused and encouraged to take a stand if you are a victim, to be supportive if you know a victim and to be empathetic about those who suffer every single day.