|Known for||Vishaka Judgement|
|Home town||Bhateri, Rajasthan, India|
|Awards||Neerja Bhanot Memorial Award for her "extraordinary courage, conviction and commitment"|
Bhanwari Devi was born in a low-caste kumhar (potter) family in Bhateri, a small Rajasthani village located 55 km from the state capital, Jaipur. Most of the villagers belonged to the conservative Gurjar community, which is higher in the caste hierarchy than her own Kumhar caste. In the 1980s, child marriages were common in the village, and the caste system was dominant.
As a saathin
In 1985, when she needed money, Bhanwari Devi became a saathin ("friend"), a grassroots worker employed as part of the Women's Development Project (WDP) run by the Government of Rajasthan. As part of her job, she took up issues related to land, water, literacy, health, Public Distribution System, and payment of minimum wages at famine relief works. In 1987, she took up a major issue of the attempted rape of a woman from a neighbouring village. All of these activities had the full support of the members of her village. However, in 1992, Bhanwari found herself alienated, when she took up the issue of child marriage.
The alleged gang rape
According to Bhanwari Devi, at 6 pm on 22 September 1992, while she and her husband were working in their field, five men of her village attacked her husband Mohan Lal, leaving him unconscious. The five men whom she named were: Ram Karan Gurjar, Ram Sukh Gurjar, Gyarsa Gurjar, Badri Gurjar and Shravan Sharma. When she came to her husband's rescue, she said, Gyarsa and Badri raped her, while the other three pinned her down on the ground.
Bhanwari reported the incident to Ms. Sharma, the pracheta (a block-level worker). The pracheta took her to the Bassi police station to lodge a First Information Report (FIR). The Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) who examined Bhanwari for signs of external injury found only two extremely minor bruises. He therefore doubted her story and expressed his doubts to her. To this, Bhanwari is said to have made an unusual, extraordinary reply. She is alleged to have claimed that she was a minor and below the age of consent, and that therefore any intercourse with her, even if she had been a willing participant with no sign of bodily injury, was a criminal offense and should be registered as such by the police officer. Hearing this reply, the DSP sent her to the Primary Health Clinic (PHC) for further examination, with a note requesting a medical report and also a test "confirming the age of the victim."
At the Primary Health Clinic, both the female doctors who should have been on duty were unavailable. The Indian medical procedure code and the Indian criminal procedure code both stipulate that examination of alleged rape victims be performed by female doctors. Therefore, the only male doctor available refused to examine Bhanwari's private parts and instead sent her to the Sawai Man Singh hospital in Jaipur, with a chit requesting a thorough medical examination, including the test confirming age of victim as requested by the DSP.
The Medical Jurist at Jaipur said that he cannot conduct any tests without orders from a Magistrate. According to Bhanwari, the Magistrate refused to give the orders until the next day, as it was past his working hours. The order was sanctioned the next day, but only for a general medical examination (and not the test confirming "age of victim"), since at this point, under questioning by the magistrate, Bhanwari stated that she had never claimed to be a minor. Due to these delays, the vaginal swab was taken more than 48 hours after the alleged rape, although Indian law requires this to be done within 24 hours.
At the police station, Bhanwari was asked to deposit her "lehanga" (long skirt) as evidence. She had to cover herself with her husband's blood-stained saafa (turban) and walk 3 km to the nearest saathin's village Kherpuria, at about 1 am in the morning.
On 25 September 1992, Rajasthan Patrika carried a small news item stating that a woman from Bhateri had registered an FIR in Bassi 'thana' alleging gang rape. Following this, a number of local Hindi dailies as well as national dailies reported the incident. On 2 October 1992, the Rajasthan Patrika carried an editorial article Kroor Hadsa ("Brutal Incident") condemning the incident. Soon after, many Jaipur-based women's groups and other social organizations began making inquiries about the incident. However, Bhanwari Devi was accused of fabricating the entire incident by the alleged rapists and their supporters, and faced public humiliation in her village. Bhanwari Devi refused monetary compensation to avoid allegations that she had cooked up the rape story to get money.
The accused offered to pay a settlement to Bhanwari in 1994, but she refused, and instead asked them to admit to the rape to restore her family's honor, which they would not do. As a result, her family (other than her husband), who believed that she should have settled, broke ties with her.
The court case
District court judgment
The trial was completed and the verdict was delivered by the district and sessions judge in November 1995. The judge ruled that the accused were not guilty, stating inter alia that Bhanwari's husband couldn't have passively watched his wife being gang-raped. The accused included an uncle-nephew pair, and the judge said that a man could not have participated in a gang rape in the presence of his own nephew; he also stated that he believed an upper-caste man would not have raped a Dalit. The judge also asserted that the 52 hour delay in the medical examination meant it was possible that she was lying about the accusation.
The judgement led to a nationwide campaign for justice for Bhanwari Devi, as well as changes to the law surrounding workplace sexual harassment. However, by 2007, 15 years after the incident, the Rajasthan High Court held only one hearing on the case and two of the accused were dead.
Bhanwari Devi and her family were ostracized by villagers in Bhateri and by members of her own caste living elsewhere. When her mother died, her brothers and others did not allow her to participate in the funeral. Following this incident, Bhanwari handed over to them the sum of Rs.25,000 which she had received from Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. Her brothers spent this money on organizing a Kumhar caste panchayat, where people were asked to accept her back into the community. In spite of this effort, her acceptance in the community remained nominal and her son Mukesh had a difficult time finding a family willing to marry their daughter to him. Mukesh (who had been barely four years old when Bhanwari made her rape allegation) also faced other problems: he was taunted by his classmates for being the son of a notorious slut when he attended college in Dausa many years later and this resulted in a scuffle where he was soundly trashed by the others.
The New Indian Express journalist Sukhmani Singh interviewed her in 2001 and reported: "Feisty, outspoken, innately hospitable, she openly expressed her resentment against both the women's groups and the government, all of whom have been fiercely guarding her like their pet mannequin all these many years." He reported that she was "weary, resigned and bitter" after all these years. He also reported that Bhanwari wanted to leave Bhateri, but couldn't afford to do so. Her sole source of income was a buffalo, as her two bighas of land had become unproductive due to three years of drought. Most of the money that she received as part of the Neerja Bhanot Memorial Award in 1994 was locked away in a trust to aid women.
Bhanwari's case shaped the women's movement in Rajasthan, heralding a trend in which media publicity and management of "atmospherics" bacame crucial to the activities of the women's movement in India. The Bhanwari case is held by some to have encouraged rape victims to prosecute their rapists. Also, by 2007, the average age of the first-time mother in Rajasthan had gone up to 16.5 years. According to Shivam Vij (prominent communist activist and founder of the left-wing blog Kafila), this change was brought about by the efforts of women's groups, catalyzed by the Bhanwari Devi case.
The Vishaka judgment
After the Bhanwari Devi case, Vishakha and other women groups filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court of India to enforce the fundamental rights of working women under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.  The petition, filed by Vishaka and four other women's organizations in Rajasthan against the State of Rajasthan and the Union of India, resulted in what are popularly known as the Vishaka Guidelines. The judgment of August 1997 provided the basic definitions of sexual harassment at the workplace and provided guidelines to deal with it. It is seen as a significant legal victory for women's groups in India.
In 2002, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, alloted a residential plot to Bhanwari Devi and announced a grant of Rs. 40,000 for construction of a house on the plot. He also sanctioned an additional amount Rs. 10,000 for the education of her son.
In 2001, Jag Mundhra made a film, Bawandar, based on Bhanwari's story. According to media reports, a small-time political worker and businessman who described Bhanwari as a "rakhi sister" had brokered a deal with Mundhra for the film. and Bhanwari had received payment for the same through this gentleman.
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