Born in 1985 in a low caste family in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, Sulekha’s hardships began at an early age. As a child she was a silent witness to her father’s abuse and eventual murder of her mother. A month after her mother’s death, her father married his lover and accomplice in her mother’s murder.
Sent to live with her maternal grandparents in the village of Bhiwani, Haryana, she felt relieved to have escaped her father and stepmother. However, when her elderly tutor began to molest Sulekha, it was evident that she had not yet escaped her suffering. She remained silent, though the abuse continued. Such molestation is simply a fact of life in many villages in India.
After school, with nowhere else to go, she returned to her father’s home. Isolated and desperate she asked her cousin Ashok Kumar to help her find a job. Kumar took her to meet who he told her was a official with government secretariat. She traveled with this man in an official vehicle to a local resort hotel, the Rajpur Resorts.
Once at the resort Sulekha was offered a drink of water that was laced with drugs. Drugged and helpless, she was taken into a room, thrown on a bed, stripped naked and raped. Although she was conscious the drug made it impossible for her to resist. Once the first rapist had finished three other men entered the room and proceeded to rape her. The first man filmed the 5 hour ordeal to use as later blackmail against her. The brutal attack left Sulekha bleeding, in pain and paralyzed by shock.
After the gang rape Sulekha was further raped by Ashok before she was taken home where fear of reprisals from her father and stepmother kept her silent. She was convinced that she would be evicted to live on the street if she revealed what had been done to her. Unable to leave her bed for a week due to severe infection, she was again alone and powerless. When Ashok revealed he was a pimp for many powerful politicians and businessmen Sulekha felt she had no choice but to work for him.
Sulekha saw her first ray of hope when she was enrolled in an management training program as cover for her to leave her father’s home at night. Samadhan NGO, which ran the training, also ran a helpline for women. For the first time Sulekha told her story and found both a voice and allies at Samadhan.
Advocate Singh, Samadhan’s director, counseled Sulekha and assisted her with filing a First Incident Report (FIR) with the police. The FIR was filed two months after the initial attack. Sulekha gave her official statement to the police, even though members of the ruling party and even members of the media attempted to physically prevent her from reaching the police station.
Despite mounting pressure from the ruling political party, members of the media and even the police, Sulekha pursued her case. She found a strength she never knew she had.
Now, three years later, her case is still working its way through the courts. Ashok and the first rapist, a state minister, have been caught and put on trial. The other three men, although identified from sketches Sulekha drew herself, remain at large.
Sulekha is training to become a lawyer and is working with other women and girls like her. Given her own voice, Sulekha is working hard to give voices to others. This is her story.