"If they had put me in jail, I would have been out in 2 months and could have lived a jolly life," said the rapist

Mother of 7-yr-old reveals she was raped as a child rapist brazens it out on Tamil TV showScreenshot from ozee.com
news Reality Show Thursday, May 25, 2017 - 18:11

Why does Indian society believe that a rape survivor should marry her rapist? Why are notions of shame and honour associated with victims of sexual violence? And to what extent are we, as a society, willing to go to protect this ‘honour’ and avoid this ‘shame’?

For you and me sitting in our drawing rooms, these may be questions for debate. For some women and girls though, the fact that we’re still debating this has real consequences.

20-year-old Latha* from Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu is one of them.

On the controversial Tamil reality show ‘Solvedhellam Unmai’, in the episode aired on May 23, Latha narrated her story, interrupted by the anchor Lakshmi Ramakrishnan’s questions, and punctuated with dramatic music, cueing the shock that the viewer is supposed to feel.

Not that you need it. Latha’s story - of child sexual abuse, about parental neglect, about being forced to suffer abuse and of being under immense pressure to marry her rapist after years of ‘living’ with him, and bearing a child for him - does not need sound effects to anger anyone.

The rape and the pregnancy

It all began when Latha was around 12 years old. Her father, who was mentally ill, left the family to live with his sister when he found out that his wife was having an affair. The lover - Vaikundashekhar - visited the family frequently, and at some point, started living with Latha, her mother, her sister and her brother.

(Screenshot courtesy: ozee.com)

And that’s when the abuse started. Vaikundashekhar, Latha narrated on the show, touched her inappropriately and sexually abused her many times. When she complained to her mother, she looked the other way.

When she was in Class 9, Latha got pregnant, although she did not know this at that point. "I was told that I had a tumour in my stomach. I had no idea I was pregnant. When I went into labour, I had to have an operation and was subsequently in a coma for 15 days. It’s only when I woke up that I realised what had happened,” she claimed.  

Latha’s son is now 7 years old, and lives with the family. And Vaikundashekhar continues to live with them.

When Latha decided to speak

While Vaikundashekhar has continued to abuse and rape her over the years, Latha said that she finally decided to speak out because her family was forcing her to get married to him.

"I bought a cellphone without my family’s knowledge and that really angered them. On top this, they were asking me to stop studying. They want me to get married to my 'mama' (how she refers to her rapist) in June," she said. "But all I want to do is study, get a job and leave this place," she added.

The anchor Lakshmi further told TNM, "She had become close to a boy in her college and this man who was raping her found out by reading her diary. She was possibly talking on the phone with the boy as well and it angered him," she explained.

"He hit her with a belt and even tried to file a police complaint that she was talking on the phone to a boy. He thinks of her as his property," Lakshmi said.

The survivor, who is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Commerce, allegedly fled from her home in Tirunelveli district after a conversation with the show's producer.

The rapist’s defence

The show producers then housed her at a hotel in Chennai. And in a questionable move, they decided to bring her rapist and her mother to the show as well.

Latha's mother defended her actions when questioned about how she could let her lover rape her child. "He paid for everything and is making her and her younger brother study," she said.

(Screenshot courtesy: ozee.com)

And while that justification in itself is shocking, it paled in comparison to the rapist’s brazen attitude.

"It is not like I raped her and ran away,” Vaikundashekar said, justifying his actions. “I am earning money and making her and her brother study. I haven't betrayed anyone.”

"They could have sent me to jail for this back then. I would have come out in two months and been happy. Now I am suffering for the last seven years," he said, playing the victim for being ‘forced’ to ‘pay for them’.

Where is Latha now?

The most shocking part of the story though is that while Latha pleaded on the show that she didn’t want to go with her mother, she was taken back anyway. 

On the show, a teary-eyed Latha said that she did not want to go back home with her family. But her mother, this whole time, maintained that she should return or she will bring 'shame' to them. "What about your brother's education?" she kept asking.

"After the show, I spoke to her mother and she even claimed to understand that what she did was wrong. In fact, we had planned a press meet on Tuesday and after that they  were to go to Tirunelveli district to file a case in the SP's office,” the anchor, Lakshmi, told TNM.

Except, when the organisers attempted to call the girl and her mother on Tuesday afternoon, they were not reachable. The producers had asked Vaikundashekhar to leave, they put Latha and her mother together in a hotel room, which, Lakshmi now believes, was a mistake.

Should TV shows act as ‘counsellors’?

"The mother seems to have brainwashed the girl and taken her away. They left without telling us," the anchor said. "The girl was told that her son had a fever. Perhaps they used the child and her brother's future to emotionally blackmail her," she added.

The entire family, the anchor alleged, has allowed the girl to be exploited. From her brother who watched the abuse silently to her mother who is the "main accused".

Then why did she allow the girl to stay with the "main accused"?

"This is her mother. We can't keep a girl away from her mother,” Lakshmi said. 

“Everything was fine till they all sat together and spoke about it. The girl kept saying she wants to stay away from them and study," she said. "But after hours of talking to her, the mother claimed that she will take care of her daughter from now. I underestimated the woman," she claimed.

So, was she show-equipped to handle the psychological effects it had on the participants? "We really did our best here," she claimed. "We have even now informed the Tirunelveli SP and identified and NGO that will help the family and prevent them from depending on that man. We are still hopeful that some good will come out of this," she said.

 

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