72-year-old house-owner had promised to put the domestic help in school; 18-year-old male servant also assaulted her

The 13-year-old came here last year, resolved to study and make it big. Her 35-year-old mother of four, who is unemployed, widowed and illiterate, sent her to the city from a small hamlet in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh, hoping that her earnings would help to sustain the family. But Damayanti Koda (the name changed) is a distraught woman today.

“They promised me that they would put her in a good school if she came here and helped the family. They also got two new dresses stitched for her. I was very happy that my child would be spared the grind of poverty. I thought she would also help me feed the three mouths in the house. But look at what they have done to her. I will not send her anywhere now,” a teary-eyed Damayanti told The Hindu.

Her daughter Saraswati (the name changed) was gang-raped twice by the 72-year-old house-owner and an 18-year-old male servant in December last in the house where she worked as a domestic help. A family friend of the accused had brought Saraswati from the hamlet to Kalyan in Thane district in July, promising the mother that she would be sent to school, given food and shelter in lieu of some household help for the pregnant daughter-in-law of the accused.

Around eight months ago, when Damayanti had come to drop her daughter at the house, she was charmed by their riches. “They have a sprawling house with two floors. They also have land in the area. After their friend offered to pay my daughter Rs. 2, 000 a month and promised to put her in school, I said, what will I do keeping her in poverty here? How am I to feed four children when I myself cannot work?” she said.

Her husband, a daily labourer, died three years ago after undergoing an operation to remove kidney stones. Damayanti has herself undergone an operation to remove stones from her gall bladder. The surgery has left her weak and frail, unable to work, depending on her parents and brother for support. The family has already borrowed money from relatives to pay up the medical expenses.

Her eldest daughter has studied up to Standard X and works as a domestic help in the village. Saraswati studied up to Standard VII before leaving school to go to Kalyan. Her two younger brothers are in school.

“When I came here, I was in awe of the family. They are rich. They kept me well. Bhabhiji promised me that she would send me to school. But two months after my coming here, there were no signs of it. They made me work continuously, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. I did not complain,” Saraswati said.

Within two months, she started facing the lusty eyes of the house-owner, the girl alleged. He would frequent the place where she slept and touch her when she was asleep. He would even grab her when she worked alone in a room. When she complained to his daughter-in-law, she was beaten up and asked to keep quiet, Saraswati said.

Emboldened, the accused, along with an 18-year-old male servant, raped her on two occasions in December. When she cried, begging for help, they threatened her with dire consequences.

“They did not even allow me to call home … I was beaten up and threatened. One day, I was taken in a car, and they told me that the male servant who raped me would marry me after I turned 18. I refused it. They beat me up again and threatened to kill me, so I said yes,” she said. But the feisty girl managed to call up her mother one day and asked her to take her home immediately.

“I sent my nephew from Nashik within two days after I received a call from her,” Damayanti said. While her nephew picked up Saraswati from the house on January 2 this year, she came to the city only by January-end. With the help of an organisation named Hindu Rashtrasena, the family lodged a complaint with the Kalyan police on January 28 against the alleged rapists, the daughter-in-law and the woman who got Saraswati from Madhya Pradesh. While the two men are behind bars, the two women are yet to be arrested.

The police filed a case under Sections 376(2)(g), 506, 34 of the Indian Penal Code; Sections 4 and 12 of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act; Sections 23 and 26 of the Juvenile Justice Act; and Section 3(1)(xi) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

A medical examination established that it was a case of rape, the police said.

Now Saraswati wants to put the past behind her. The sparkling eyes have turned dull and the smile disappears when someone talks about the incident.

When asked about it, she skirts the topic. “I want to go back to the village and study. I want to do a job and earn well,” she says. She and her mother do not see any point in their staying back to get justice.

“I have four children to take care of. How can I stay back? We want to forget about it. Our family honour has been lost … We don’t want anyone to know about it,” Damayanti said. Getting Saraswati married in the next three-four years is her priority.

But Saraswati is firm in her resolve to study and make a good future for herself.