Silenced by fear: Survivors reveal years of abuse in the Revanna household

The revelation of the videos was a devastating blow for a mother and daughter who had links to HD Revanna's family. The daughter wept upon seeing the recording of her stripping, "I cried. I cried because that person took away our dignity." Meanwhile, her mother had also been a victim of sexual assault.
Silenced by fear: Survivors reveal years of abuse in the Revanna household
Silenced by fear: Survivors reveal years of abuse in the Revanna household
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This story is part of our series, "Prajwal Revanna Tapes: The Aftermath." Three TNM journalists are in Hassan district, meeting survivors and others affected, to explore the profound societal impact of the sexual abuse videos. You can contribute to the reporting fund.

Throughout her four-year torture in JD(S) leader HD Revanna’s household, Girija* (name changed) was listed as a cook at a government hostel in Holenarasipura but she never actually got to work her formal job. She was just plucked out of her formal job and forced into an abusive environment. As though these were mediaeval times ruled by feudal lords.

Girija was abused with swear words, allegedly molested by Revanna, and raped by his son and Hassan Member of Parliament Prajwal Revanna. She is now taking on Prajwal and his family who have ruled Hassan district for decades, irrespective of whether their political party was in power or not.

Girija and her husband moved to Holenarasipura from their village in KR Nagara taluk in 2018 after Revanna, who is the Holenarasipura MLA and former Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s son, said he would get them work. She said Revanna got her a job as a cook at a government hostel, a few months later, however, Revanna and his wife Bhavani, to whom Girija is related, brought her to their house when their son Suraj got married. Girija said she was forced to work there for long hours even as she continued to receive a salary from the hostel. “They never paid me for those four years,” Girija told TNM over a phone interview. She was made to cook, clean, and do gardening. 

Girija was the first person to file a complaint against Prajwal after the sexual abuse videos allegedly recorded by him started being circulated in Hassan district. 

According to Girija, the overall environment at the Revanna household was one of abuse and fear. “The male staff members warned me. They told me I shouldn’t get noticed by Revanna or his son Prajwal,” she told TNM.

One day, when Bhavani was out, Revanna allegedly molested her on the pretext of giving her fruit. He gave fruit to everyone in an open area but insisted that she come into a room in the house. “Anna, give me the fruit outside, if Akka (Bhavani) comes, she will misunderstand,” she had told him then. He grabbed her by the hand, took her to a room and molested her, she alleged. 

Girija was forced to accompany Bhavani whenever the latter went to Bengaluru. On one of these occasions, Bhavani was out shopping when Prajwal allegedly raped her. Girija and another woman were cleaning rooms in the house. “I didn’t even know when he came into the room and locked the door.” She recalled that he had his phone in his hand but had no idea that he had recorded the assault. 

“He said that he is an MP and that if I didn’t listen to him, he would fire my husband and me, and also rape my daughter,” Girija said.

The trauma of the assault and social stigma made it impossible for her to tell anybody about it. “I couldn’t tell my husband or my daughter that they did this to me. How could I tell anyone? I was very distressed that all this happened,” she said, breaking down. 

Prajwal allegedly threatened Girija’s 28-year-old daughter Sunita* and made her strip on a video call in 2020. Sunita too was unaware that he had recorded it. “He said he would fire my mother and wouldn’t spare my daughter either. He didn’t spare me even though I begged him,” Sunita recalled. Her daughter is now a teen.

When the videos first surfaced, Sunita saw clippings of Mridula*, another woman who worked for Revanna and who has now filed a complaint. “I asked my mother if she too had been assaulted. I asked her several times, but she denied it out of fear. When I found out about my mother’s assault, I was deeply distressed. I cried bitterly. We were simple people who earned a living rearing livestock. They betrayed our trust and did this to us,” Sunita said. 

Videos of both Girija and Sunita are among those that Prajwal allegedly recorded and have been circulating on social media and messaging platforms. It was the police who showed the mother and daughter videos of their assaults. 

Sunita said that even when the police asked Girija about the video, her mother denied it until the police reassured her that she was not at fault. “It was only when they told her that she didn’t go voluntarily and that she was pleading and begging Prajwal not to assault her in the video, that she finally talked about the rape.”

Sunita cried when the police showed her the recording of her stripping. “I cried. I cried because that b****** took away our dignity by doing this. My mother too felt terrible about it.” 

When they eventually decided to file a complaint, they were discouraged from doing so. “A lot of people told us we can’t take them on. My mother was scared. I told her that even if they kill us, we should go. I don’t know where the courage came from. Maybe God gave me courage. I told my mother that we are fighting for justice for ourselves, and so we went (to file a complaint).” 

Girija as well as Sunita and her two children are in a safe house in Bengaluru while the Special Investigation Team records their statements. Not allowed to step out, they desperately want to go home, but they don’t have a house to return to. 

Girija said that the Revanna family used their influence to get a government site allotted to them in Holenarasipura in 2018. The land records are in Girija’s name. The family built a house on the site using money from the sale of their house in KR Nagara taluk in Mysuru district and began living there, but their independence was short-lived. In 2023, Bhavani sent the police to evict them and they’ve had to live in a rented house since, Sunita alleged. “We want jobs and our house. We don’t have the money to pay rent. I have to repay loans that I took for my mother’s treatment,” Sunita said.

Having taken on one of the most powerful political families in the state, mother and daughter are pretty much on their own. “Strangers are standing by us, not our own people. Some relatives say they support us but they also fear Revanna’s family. We too fear that they will do something to us,” she said, adding that the police have assured them that they will be given protection.

Four women including Girija and Sunita have filed complaints against Prajwal. TNM spoke to another woman who has also filed a complaint with the police and is currently in Bengaluru.

Police van outside Revanna's house in Holenarasipura.
Police van outside Revanna's house in Holenarasipura.

‘Who would believe me?’

Forty-seven-year-old Mridula* started working at Revanna’s Gannikada farm around six years ago. Sathish Babanna, Revanna’s aide, reached out to her family stating there was a job at the farmhouse. Mridula, her sister Mala*, and their husbands all worked at the farm. 

In a phone conversation, Mridula told TNM that Prajwal lured her to his room one day on the pretext of asking for water. “I brought him water, he drank it and then grabbed my hand… I begged him, saying ‘Anna, I make a living by working here, I don’t do these things. Bitbidi (spare me). I’m poor but I live with dignity. He didn’t listen to me… He repeatedly said, ‘Enu agalla’ (nothing will happen).”

Mridula had borrowed Rs 50,000 from Revanna’s family. “I wanted to scream but who would believe what I had to say? I kept working there as I had to repay the loan.” Two months after the assault, Prajwal sexually assaulted Mridula again, this time in Revanna’s family home located in the Basavanagudi area of Bengaluru. “He called me to give me his laundry. I avoided going for two hours but it was of no use.” Her distress was palpable throughout the phone conversation.

“I didn’t share this with anyone, not even my sister,” Mridula said. She and her sister Mala worked on the same farm for some time. Later, Mala and her husband were given work at another farm. “I wouldn’t have been able to live in society with my head held high. My kids wouldn’t have gotten married if I had shared that I was assaulted.” She alleged that he tried to rape her again at the farmhouse but she managed to get away because he hadn’t locked the door.

Three years ago Mridula used her daughter’s wedding as an excuse to get away from Revanna’s farm. “I never went back. I was afraid that I would be assaulted again or they would kill me. I was in no position to tell anybody that something like this had happened. When I finally came back home, I was a little relieved. My family continuously asked if everything was alright and if I was okay. They didn’t know why I wasn’t as talkative as before,” she said. 

When she returned, her children’s future weighed on her mind. “I had unmarried daughters, who would marry them if they came to know that I was raped? Who would believe me? I don’t think I would have been able to live if I had shared this at home before.” 

On April 29, Satish Babanna, Bhavani’s relative and Revanna’s henchman, told Mridula that Revanna had summoned her over a police case she was supposedly involved in. Her family did not suspect anything at the time. Only a few days later, friends and relatives informed her son that Mridula was seen in the videos, leading them to realise that she had been kidnapped. Her son filed a complaint against Revanna on May 2, accusing him of kidnapping his mother. 

By this time, Mridula was taken to a house in Kalenahalli village. She told TNM that on May 3, Bhavani’s driver Ajith made her record a video absolving the Revanna family of any wrongdoing. This 2.31-minute-long video surfaced on May 12. “I felt bad that they were talking about me in my village, so I came to my relatives’ house. I saw on TV that this is happening and I wondered why people are doing this. Nobody gave me any trouble, be it Bhavani, Revanna or Prajwal. I didn’t face any trouble even from Babanna. I have nothing to do with those mobile videos. They have not troubled me in any way. Nobody has kidnapped me. I am at my relatives’ house.”

Prajwal Revanna (left) Bhavani Revanna (middle) and Revanna (right)
Prajwal Revanna (left) Bhavani Revanna (middle) and Revanna (right)

Mridula reiterated that she was safe and that she was not kidnapped. “To my son, don’t be afraid. I am doing well and will be back in 10 days. Nobody has kidnapped me. I’ll be back soon. Don’t torture my children by sending the police. I’ll be back soon… No one has kidnapped me. My son has done this (gone to the police) without knowing this. He was scared. Nobody has kidnapped me. I am safe, I’ll come home soon,” she said in the video.

However, Mridula told TNM about how Ajith made her say all this on camera and that she had no idea why she was being made to do so. Ajith told her that she was accused in a case and that she could be arrested. “He made me say that Revanna, Bhavani, Prajwal had done nothing wrong.” 

Mridula said, “Ajith made me lie on the video. He told me that I owed it to Bhavani because she had helped me, and now it was time to return the favour. Ajith said if I needed help with anything, he would get it done by Bhavani.” She had repeatedly asked Ajith why he was recording the video, but he claimed that it was for her safety. 

After recording the video, Ajith told the owner of the house to hide Mridula from the police and then left. Mridula was then made to spend the night in the workers’ room. “I was asked to lie if anybody asked my name. The police came looking for me that night but couldn’t find me. The police stayed outside the house the rest of the night.”

All this while she was under the impression that the police were looking for her because they wanted to arrest her. So the next morning, (May 4), when she saw the police were still outside the house, she escaped when she had the chance. 

“I walked for hours, took an auto from a village, and reached a relative’s house in Hunsur and called my family. I was scared that something had happened to my children.”

Until she called her family, she was clueless that she had been lied to. “When my daughter said that such a video had come out, I felt like dying. By then, the police had arrived along with my son-in-law. My children keep telling me that I’ve done nothing wrong,” she said crying.

Malice and social stigma

Long-time residents of the district say that among the women in the leaked videos are public officials, professionals, Janata Dal (Secular) members, and leaders, people who’ve worked for the Revanna family, and the district’s social elite. 

Some of them are known to each other and stories abound of what has happened to others. There are stories of survivors’ families beating them up, of women completely isolating themselves, family members rejecting them, and of women questioning each other about how they are going to survive this ordeal and how to protect their children. And at the back of their minds is the constant question: when will people bring this up again? Will it be at my daughter’s wedding? Will anyone even want to get married into our family? Will they ruin every good thing that will ever happen to me?

People have identified the women, met their relatives and shown them circulated material, viciously ensuring that even those who have not seen the videos watch them. Malice is constantly directed at them in the garb of concern. “Oh, are you alive? Someone told me you had tried to kill yourself. Have you seen the pictures? It is you, isn’t it?” These are the queries posed to the women. 

They are attacked on social media platforms and their colleagues question their competence in the name of morality, exacerbating the situation. “I have worked so hard to get where I am at, but in one shot all that I have achieved is being questioned,” said a survivor.

Some women have reached out to activists in Hassan, seeking information about legal recourse, asking whether or not they will get justice if they file complaints, or simply talk. Many have now isolated themselves. 

Hassan-based writer and activist Rupa Hassan said that the women in the videos that she has been in touch with are extremely worried about facing their families. “In some cases, their husbands or families don’t know about these videos. But what worries them the most is facing their children. If their children find out and turn against them, they don’t know how they will live.”

Some survivors have not approached the police and do not wish to do so either but told us their stories. TNM is publishing their thoughts about their ordeal while withholding details that they did not want to be revealed.

“I feel like a snake that has been almost stoned to death. And they continue to throw stones at it just to see if it is dead.” Some have turned the situation into a game by tracing the identities of the women in the videos and harassing them either on social media platforms or through phone messages. This constant taunting and mocking makes the women feel as if they are being violated daily. “I know I will never be free of this. They will never let me be happy, they will never let me forget. If I show the slightest bit of recovering from this ordeal, they will make sure they rake the issue up again and break my spirit,” a survivor said.

MP residence in Hassan where Prajwal Revanna allegedly sexually abused women.
MP residence in Hassan where Prajwal Revanna allegedly sexually abused women.

Report and remove

While the survivors hope to get justice, an overwhelming fear remains about the videos and how they will remain on someone’s device or on social media in some form to be brought up repeatedly.

A senior police officer with experience in handling cybercrime said there was no way to remove such material from devices. “But we could issue a stringent advisory just like the SIT has done to warn people against circulating the videos. Law enforcement agencies can sensitise people, point out the risk of sharing the videos and make it very clear that there will be legal consequences if they do so,” the officer said.

He also said that the police can set up an easy reporting mechanism with a dedicated helpline number that people can use to report such material being circulated on phones or social media. “In such cases, the SIT can flag such posts and have them taken down. A dedicated team needs to be in place to monitor social media regularly and make sure the videos are taken down immediately. If a person is reported to be circulating these videos then they should be booked under the relevant sections of the IPC and IT Act,” the officer said.

The scapegoats

In many videos and images, the women’s faces are clearly seen. In some clips, women are trying to cover their faces, or are asking not to be filmed. In the two weeks that have passed since the videos surfaced, there are more questions than answers. Who leaked the videos? How many women have been affected by this? What was the level of coercion and the extent of the abuse of power? Is political rivalry involved? 

One survivor asked, “What did they gain by revealing the faces of so many women? Why did they sacrifice us?  What did we ever do to them?”

The Special Investigation Team looking into the alleged sexual abuse by Prajwal Revanna has issued the helpline number 6360938947 for survivors to reach out for assistance or protection.

Our coverage of this case can be accessed here.

* Names changed.

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