When recently asked to share her story, 12-year-old Kanta* nodded, smiled and looked at her hands folded in her lap. Then she picked up a pen and began to write in Hindi.
“What happened to me is unfortunate,” she said. “Let’s treat it as a bad dream and start new life from now onward.”
Kanta was 11 when her mother noticed a bulge under her shirt. When the doctor pronounced her six months pregnant in July, she broke the silence about her rape.
It happened while she walked the short distance to her aunt’s home in Delhi. A security guard forced her off the road into a house. After the rape, he threatened to kill her parents if she told anyone. Her mother was visiting family in Nepal, and her father and brothers worked long hours.
Her parents were shocked to learn of the attack and immediately filed a report to the police, who arrested the accused. The Child Welfare Committee, a local government body, referred the case to HAQ: Centre for Child Rights (HAQ) and Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ) and helped Kanta shift to a private shelter home. Though the separation from family was hard, both Kanta and her parents wanted her to stay there. In the shelter she received free trauma counselling, bedside care and security from anyone, like the accused’s family, who may have pressured her to change her story before testifying in court.
The first time a HAQ/CSJ social worker met Kanta, she sat for two hours without speaking. Loss of speech is common among sexually abused children. Before introducing Kanta to the idea of speaking in court, social workers gradually sensitized Kanta to her pregnancy and what that meant to her life.
“She was asking us what was growing in her stomach,” HAQ/CSJ social worker Aisha said. “She didn’t understand and thought she would never again be able to play with the other kids.”
Kanta’s doctors braced for a difficult delivery, warning that either the baby or Kanta could die. A top-ranked gynecologist heard about the risky case and offered her services. The delivery in September went smoothly, and the baby boy was given to an adoption agency.
During the delivery, Kanta caught a glimpse of the baby’s head and had a flashback to her rape. Many sexual assault survivors experience nightmares and flashbacks, but counselling can reduce their frequency.
In a counselling session after the birth, Kanta said she felt a burden lifted and began truly healing.
“I’m feeling so light,” she told Aisha at the time. “Something inside me is now gone.”
She remained at the shelter home for the next four months completing therapy with other young girls who had survived sexual assaults and sharing her wisdom and sources of courage.
“Whenever I felt low during pregnancy and after, I always remembered God first,” Kanta said. “He gave me courage to face the condition, and after that lots of people in the shelter gave me courage.”
“When they cried, I would say, 'See, we’re all here because of this misfortune, but we’re not here for a long time,'” Kanta said. “'Just have faith in God for your fate. Be strong. Be kind to everyone.'”
“She was the youngest in the home but helping all the girls there,” Aisha said.
During Kanta’s testimony in January, the judge simplified questions directed to her and suggested she look at the female stenographer when narrating the details of her rape. He even intervened when the defence lawyer insisted she specify times and dates, saying that a child her age would not be expected to remember those details.
“I know that because my son is the same age,” the judge said in court. “I can quote this from child psychology books also.”
Sympathetic to her rehabilitation needs, he passed an order to grant compensation, which will be used to enrol Kanta in a private school as soon as the next session begins in July.
Kanta’s doctor and parents testified in March, and CSJ advocates on her case believe the trial will conclude before September, the one-year deadline under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.
Today Kanta is living at home again and excited to go back to school. She likes to draw, loves to write her thoughts and hates math. She wants to be a tailor. And despite the societal pressure to feel shame and think that the greatest cost of her rape is a future marriage, she has decided she is happy whether or not she marries.
“The most important thing I learned this year is that marriage is not the ultimate in a girl’s life,” she said. “Whether or not I am married, I just want to have good people in my life.”
Sometimes she still has flashbacks of her rape, but the trauma has subsided. She has found her voice again.
“I am happy that God gave me my life back and that God brought colours in my life,” she said.
*Pseudonym used to protect identity.