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Life 'Worse Than Death' For 13-Yr-Old, Mother Of 3

Life 'Worse Than Death' For 13-Yr-Old, Mother Of 3

Author: Sunando Sarkar
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: November 6, 2001

Lakshmi Das is 37. Her eldest daughter, Durga, is 18. Rani Sil, who hid in the paddy fields for three days, is 25. And Sadhana Poddar is all of 13. None of them was, however, too old or too young to escape what each would first deny and then break down and simply describe as "something worse than death".

Lakshmi, Durga, Rani and Sadhana (all names of rape victims have been changed) are four of the 60-odd women and over 100 persons who have taken refuge in villages between Thakurnagar railway station and the Indo-Bangladesh border. Each of the 100-plus men and women has his or her own share of horror tales to recount - some can back it up with multiple scars on their torso - but all admit that the four women were the worst victims of an unequal war.

Rani was a resident of Padmamanasi, an idyllic-sounding village in Bangladesh's Bhola district. Now, she is an unsure resident of a village near the Thakurnagar railway station. "Please don't mention the village," members of the Bangladesh Udbastu Unnayan Sangsad, an organisation which arranged shelter for her, pleaded. "Rani and the others may be caught and pushed back," sangsad secretary Bimal Majumdar explained.

Rani, however, couldn't care less. After having spent 72 hours in the paddy fields behind her house, she thought she had given the marauders the slip. She, however, couldn't have been more mistaken. Raped for "what seemed a lifetime" after she came out of hiding, she finally managed to escape by paying Rs 10,000. She had strength enough to gather her three children, who had taken shelter in a neighbour's house, and trek for more than two days to India and safety but she doesn't know what happened to her husband. "After all that I have gone through, it hardly matters," she said.

Lakshmi and Durga, however, are yet to attain that stoic frame of mind. They crossed over to India from Bangladesh exactly a week ago and were residents of a village, again in Bhola which seemed to be one of the worst-affected districts. Lakshmi still can't walk properly. The trek was painful. "But there was a lot more."

What does she mean by "a lot more"? "I have lost everything I had," she replies. And it's a lot more than her property in Algi and her belongings, every bit of which was looted.

"They came to our house first on October 10 (a day before Bangladesh went to the polls that brought the BNP-led alliance to power) and then again a fortnight later," she said.

"We stayed on because we thought that the pre-poll nightmare would be the last," she said, explaining why she finally set out on October 25 for India.

Her daughter refuses to come out to speak. "She has a very bad headache," says her younger brother. Durga finally comes out after a lot of coaxing; you can see why she initially refused to come out. "Please don't ask her anything," her mother pleads. "She has had to go through a lot of pain," she explains.

So younger sister Debjani takes over. She got away because she stayed at Borhuddin with her uncle to study. But getting away meant not going out of the house after August. "I would always be followed to school and back and threatened with abduction and.," Debjani's voice trails off.

Sadhana, the youngest victim of the nightmare, was left at a village near Thakurnagar by her "dadu", Paran, on October 19. She has two sisters still at her Ramnagar home in Barishal. Asked why her family thought it safe to keep them back for some more time, she replied - very matter-of-factly - that they were "still not even 10".

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