Interview with Grassroots Feminist Activist Yogita Bhayana

Interview Recording: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Ome4_Yu6oxmr8Lj-M7abnlbbKl7_t6iH/view?usp=sharing

Interview conducted 27/8/2020

Hospitals in Delhi alone each get at least 5 child rape victims every day. And yet, conviction rates are low, and rape culture rules. Yogita Bhayana is one woman who is trying to fight it, and defend child victims of rape and abuse. She is a former air stewardess, who gave up her successful career in Kingfisher airlines to pursue social development and justice. She was a frontliner on the Nirbhaya rape case, a horrific gang rape of a 23-year-old girl in New Delhi in 2012. In fact, she convinced the victim’s mother and family to spearhead the movement that was drawing attention to women’s safety, which gave it international media coverage. Now, she works at the grassroots with gender sensitization of police officers as well as aiding child rape victims and their families with their legal cases.

She has firsthand experience dealing with the police, as well as the judiciary. In our interview, she told me that she hadn’t received any new cases of child rape, because many of the reported cases happen in secluded public sites with vulnerable children. That being said, she is wary of an increase in what she calls “four walls rape”, which makes up a majority of rape cases. They are surfacing now that the lockdown has ended, and she is getting many calls from women and children to seek help against their abusers. She also says that there has been a significant increase in online sexual abuse, which has been difficult to combat.

As per the 2013 reforms, she says that “only 20-30% of the changes recommended [in the Verma report] have happened”. “Yes, I am not denying that the laws have changed”, she clarifies, “but the implementation has not happened. The people are the same. The police are insensitive. They are the first people who the survivors connect with, and they are still making the lives of survivors difficult”. Police often question the validity of the victim’s claims and blame them for the event. Their investigations are incomplete and “shoddy”, and are often corrupt, so they can be bribed into dropping the case.

“We need more forensic labs. We need more people who want to give justice, who have enthusiasm, in the police, judiciary, and medical field. We need infrastructure. It has to work from all angles”, she tells me. This shows me that there is structural violence involved in the justice system, which is caused and can be corrected by human decision.

“The whole process in culprit-centric. It needs to be victim centric. I’ve seen victims being called to repeat their stories over and over in front of their rapists. The whole system is very insensitive to the victim. The onus is on the victim to prove that [she didn’t consent], but the onus should be on the perpetrator. Also, the victim should be protected, because in a lot of cases the girls are being killed for testifying. The whole mechanism is anti-victim. It needs to be victim-sensitive. She should be given compensation, she should be rehabilitated, she should be educated”.

We end on that powerful note.

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