She was the only educated Dalit girl in her hamlet, something the upper caste Yadavs could not digest

A resolute voice speaks out from Seema Kumari’s (name changed) frail, shrunken frame. “I will fight in court. I will be a witness in court without fear. I will certainly testify against those who have done this to me and landed me in this situation.”

Agony has been her companion ever since miscreants threw acid on her in the still of the night two months ago. Hard layers of scabs have formed on her disfigured face, which pull at her skin evenas she blinks. A slight movement of the body to perform simple bodily functions causes immense pain, making her wail.

On the night of October 21 the poor Dalit girl, was sleeping at home in the Mushahar hamlet at Maner, Patna district. Her parents were sleeping on the roof. Three youths — all from the dominant Yadav community — barged into the house and threw acid on her face. Much of it also fell on her hands, back and legs. Such was the impact of the attack that Seema’s visually impaired younger sister, who was sleeping next to her, also suffered burns.

“Had they poured it from a bottle the damage would have been less. But they transferred the acid in a bowl first,” said social activist Pratima, who is helping the family deal with the ordeal.

“These men always harassed me when I used to pass through the bazaar. Out of fear I stopped taking the bazaar road,” Seema, a class 11 student, told The Hindu from her bed at the Patna Medical College Hospital’s intensive care unit.

In Mushahar, Seema was the only educated Dalit girl, a fact the Yadavs could not digest. “Many times they tore the curtains of the house. When we put up new curtains, they would laugh,” she said.

In such a heinous attack too, activist Pratima encountered the same police biases that hold the victim responsible by casting doubts on her character. “I was miffed at media reports talking of a one-sided ‘love affair’. So five days after the incident I visited the police station. The in-charge told me, ‘Voh to tez ladki thi [She was a fast girl]. She had seven or eight SIM cards and she used to talk to boys.’ I asked him what he was trying to imply. What is wrong with [her] having SIM cards?”

Seema’s family, which earns its bread and butter through construction labour, is paying for expensive medicine. “Very few medicines are given by the hospital. Most of them we have to purchase from outside. The hospital no more gives the paraffin gauze for covering her face. We are told to buy it from outside. The ointment to sooth the skin has been long over. That too we have to buy,” Seema’s mother said.

“The administration thinks justice is done once the victim gets compensation. Is compensation justice?” asks Pratima. The three accused — Anil Kumar, Raj Kumar and Ghanashyam Kumar — have been arrested. However, Anil, the main accused, said Pratima, has been shown as a minor so that he can get away with a mild punishment. “We would be appealing to the senior officials to conduct an age test. We do not believe the certificates he has manufactured,” she said.

The family has still not been given reports of the medical examination, conducted when Seema was brought to the hospital two months ago. “The authorities said it will take time,” said the father. The reports are a crucial piece of formal evidence in the case, in which a charge sheet has not yet been filed.

A picture of strength, Seema is determined to get back to her studies. “I want to be a computer engineer, earn money, take care of the house and support my father, since I don’t have a brother.”

“She was always so determined about studying,” said her proud mother. “When neighbours would deter her father for letting her study, she told her father, ‘I do want to be like the rest. I want to be big’.”

After this incident, people in the Dalit neighbourhood of the hamlet were afraid of sending their daughters to school. “Only when social workers and activists tried to reason with them and allayed their fears did they ease up,” said Pratima.