Several beatings have only strengthened her resolve to create a safer environment for her children
EAST DELHI—Preeti* called for her nine-year-old son Tanmay* one morning, but he didn’t answer. He had gone next door to return a bowl to their neighbour, but that had been nearly 20 minutes before.
Preeti walked toward the neighbour’s house, calling Tanmay’s name, when he scrambled out the door toward her. She knew right away that something was wrong.
Inside their home, Tanmay told his mother what had happened. The neighbour, in his thirties, had asked Tanmay to watch TV with him, a treat Tanmay didn’t have at home.
After Tanmay sat next to him, he slid his hand into Tanmay’s pants. Tanmay pushed him away. Then the neighbour exposed his private parts and asked Tanmay to perform oral sex. At that moment, Preeti’s voice entered the room through the window, calling his name.
Tanmay ran toward the door, and the neighbour yelled that he would kill him if he told anyone.
Preeti filed a report with police that same day in May and took Tanmay for a medical exam, to be used as evidence in court. The doctor found several scratches on Tanmay’s hand and a tear in his anal region.
The accused was arrested but within a month, released on bail without clear reasons.
Shortly after the accused’s release from jail, he came with his relatives to Preeti’s house, ransacked their belongings and beat her and her two daughters. Tanmay wasn’t home. “We have four brothers,” the accused said, related by Preeti. “You can’t do anything.” The accused’s wife even bit Preeti, threatening her not to pursue the case.
Then the accused’s brother tried to kidnap Tanmay on the way home from school, but he managed to run away. On another occasion, the landlord cut off the family’s water supply, even though they had paid him for it. He supported the accused and was pressuring Preeti to drop the case. When she inquired about her water, the landlord yelled and hit her on the head, knocking her unconscious. Preeti paid to have six stiches across her scalp. But she is determined to pursue the case.
“As mothers we must fight these cases because if we don’t the people committing these crimes will only be encouraged,” Preeti said. “We must fight for their security and education and create a safe environment for our children.”
With the accused living so close, the family lived in fear.
“Before the incident [Tanmay] used to be very lively and play with me,” Preeti said. “But after, he has been very sick because he constantly thinks about the incident and thinks the accused will come back.”
Preeti lost her job because she needed time off to attend court proceedings and became fearful of leaving her children unsupervised. Sometimes when she needed to go out she would lock them inside the house. Preeti’s mother bought an apartment for the family in Delhi away from the accused and sends her money from their native village for daily needs until Preeti works again.
When HAQ/CSJ became aware of the case, social worker Shubham helped Preeti enter witness protection. Under the government programme, three local police officers are assigned to check on her daily.
“When I became connected with CSJ, I became more confident and aware of my rights,” Preeti said.
HAQ/CSJ will continue to represent Tanmay until the conclusion of the trial. In the meantime, Tanmay attends counselling sessions and Preeti tries to create a happy environment at home. They feel safe, she said, but still scared. Tanmay feels happy when he comes to meet Shubham and the counsellor. He loves to spend time in the CSJ office, Preeti said.
“I motivate [Tanmay] by reminding him of Shubham and the lawyer from CSJ who are helping him,” Preeti said.
“The only thing I want is for [the accused] to be in jail. I fear [the accused] might try to kill the children. I’m fighting for my children because if tomorrow he kills my children, what is the point of living?”
*Name changed to protect identity.