“I miss my sisters a lot,” Madhavi* says softly. “I haven’t met them in almost eight years. But I can’t go home now. Not until the case finishes. Once it does, I will be free,” she says.
A woman of 21, Madhavi is warm and smiles easily. Thanks to her beautician skills, the scars on her face are barely visible, artfully covered over by lipstick and makeup. But Madhavi sees them clearly no matter how invisible they are to you and me.
It’s been eight years since she suffered brutal abuse at the hands of her employers – a young techie couple in Bengaluru.
On a wintry afternoon in December 2009, members of the Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), a child rights' NGO, and the local police, rescued Madhavi from the fifth floor of a gated community in HSR layout. The apartment belonged to a young couple, Pallab Chakraborty, then a software engineer at Infosys, and his wife Sanchita.
When her rescuers reached her, Madhavi was frail and scared. There were several serious injuries on her body, including to her lips, eyes and forehead. After she was taken to the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, doctors discovered a scar covering almost half her back. This, they would learn, was a result of a particularly cruel instance of the Chakrabortys allegedly pouring hot oil on the girl’s back.
Madhavi told the police an appalling story of abuse and torture.
"They hit me, beat me a lot. I had long hair… they cut it off. Once, they poured hot oil on my back. My clothes stuck to my skin, it hurt badly to peel them off,” she recalls with a shudder. “I was in so much pain there that I even contemplated suicide," she says.
"Once, I tried to jump from the 5th floor, but I couldn't do it. They stopped me and then beat me with a rolling pin. These marks on my lips and face are all their doing," she says, pointing to her face. Her voice is full of bitterness.
Madhavi hails from a poor family in West Bengal. She lost her father to cancer when she was seven. Soon after that, her mother was killed over a land dispute. It was her grandparents who took her in, until she came to work in Bengaluru.
Gunasheela, a Childline worker in Bengaluru following up on Madhavi’s case, told TNM that the Chakrabortys had known Madhavi since she was in Kolkata. “She worked there for them for about a year and when they were moving to Bengaluru, her grandparents sent her with them because the families knew each other,” she says. Gunasheela says that the couple wasn’t abusive when Madhavi worked for them in Kolkata.
For Madhavi, it was the hope for a better future which led her to hell. "I told my grandmother many times that I wanted to study. They (Chakrabortys) said that they would let me study and keep me well. That's why I came to Bengaluru with them," she recounts.
Police filed the chargesheet in 2010, and the couple were booked under several sections of the IPC and the Juvenile Justice Act, including wrongful confinement and voluntarily causing hurt.
However, one important allegation that did not make it to the chargesheet is Madhavi’s complaint that she was not allowed by her employers to wear clothes, and was often molested by Pallab.
"They didn't give me clothes to wear. He touched me here and there," Madhavi recollects with disgust.
Sheila Devaraj, Director of APSA, says that when Madhavi was rescued, her physical injuries were so serious in nature that the allegations of molestation were not immediately taken up. The language barrier, because Madhavi only knew Bengali then, also added to the fact that the complaints of sexual abuse were not registered.
In the first days after her rescue, Madhavi’s fear did not slacken at all. She believed she would be sent back to the Chakrabortys once she recovered. Gradually however, with a lot of love and care from APSA workers, she began to mingle with other girls and even started studying at a school in Bengaluru.
She still had to go to court every month, and recount her nightmare many times over before the judge. “They (the accused) used to say that I had only done everything. They used to glare at me in court. Their lawyer would lie and say that the injuries were there because I harmed myself,” she recalls, indignantly. “But I will know what has happened with me. I know my pain,” she insists.
Madhavi alleges that the defense is also trying to prove that she was 19 when she was working at the house of the accused and have forged a birth certificate as well. “I know how old I was. I will not let it go,” she says resolutely.
Now, almost eight years later, Madhavi has made every effort possible to move on and leave the past behind her.
After she was rescued, Madhavi completed her education till class 9 and trained to be a beautician for a year. But now, she wants to come back to Bengaluru, retake her class 10 exams and even get a college degree.
“I want to be an airhostess,” she says with a shy smile, which quickly gives way to an anxious expression, “But I hope my height won’t be a problem.”
Recovering from the trauma is still an uphill journey for Madhavi, despite having been in counselling till last year. “I try so hard to forget. But I (still) remember what happened, and wonder why it happened. I had never thought something like this will happen to me,” she says.
While an uncle and her grandparents know about the abuse, there is not much contact with them over the phone. Madhavi longs to go home and meet her sisters and her family. But she feels bound to see the case reach its conclusion, even though the last time she had to go to court was in 2015.
“Main ye khatam karke rahungi (I will definitely see it through to the end). If I go away, the case will not go forward, and they will not be punished. I deserve my freedom,” she says. She then points to the nail of her left index finger and says, “This is also new. They had taken it out. What did I do so wrong to deserve such treatment?”