She knew why it happened, she knew why she had committed suicide, and she could understand why the post mortem report said there was an unborn foetus.
She could understand why everyone at the tola*2 was raging, yet she could not fully comprehend why. After all she was only 15.
She knew Mala*3 when she was a child. A year or two elder to her, Mala lived next door. They played all their games together. She learnt all the household chores by watching her, her mother never had to worry about that; and Shanti, in her childish pride, was always proud that she came to know about menstruation without even gaining puberty.
The tola knew the two as a company. And now the curious neighbours and her mother wanted to know, who Mala was sleeping with, and Shanti; she did not know how to answer. She was scared and grieved and did not know what to say.
She couldn’t say a thing. She was numb – with fear, terror and her loss. What happened is something she so easily could have narrated, but would they believe her, would they not condemn her. How can she speak out, get the burden out of her soul, without being castigated. Without being hurt?
She had just lost Mala, the one she knew was her only friend, they knew each other’s secret, and they both were afraid then, and now she was gone, forever. Alone, what can she do now, how can she speak out. Who does she turn to?
She just heard her father screaming outside to her mother – and knew anytime he would unleash his terror at home – to her mother and to her, God only knows what all he would do.
‘Your daughter has brought this misery home, she is a curse, and you are the culprit, you brought her to this world, you bitch, why did you give birth to this wicked girl? Eh? What do I say to them now, tell me’, he yelled!
Mother merely said, ‘Shanti is not telling me anything, she is crying herself, I don’t know...’
She then heard a loud noise and a thump and then her mother’s cries, she knew her mother was being beaten up, she wanted to tell her father, but right now she had no courage, she had no courage to say a word.
But her father had already entered their only room, where she was crying, inconsolably, her father picked her up from the ground where she was sitting, picked her up in the air, and dropped her. With a thud she fell to the ground, and did not know how to react. Then her father picked up a kerosene bottle, poured it over her and said, ‘tell me the truth or I will burn you alive’.
Hearing this, her mother came to the room, jumped over the girl and said ‘if she has to die, kill us both, what you are doing! You will be punished for something you never did, that girl did not die because of you, and by killing us, no one, not the culprit; but you will go to jail for our murder. Spare us. We haven’t done anything. WE have not brought any disrepute to anyone. Our family’s name is intact. Tell him Shanti, have you brought any disrepute to the family’s name? Tell him now or I will ask your father to burn you alive, now!’
To which Shanti simply nodded – No.
She was terrified; she was not terrified of anything like this ever before, her own father was willing to kill her and her mother even supported him. She wasn’t this afraid even when that thing had happened to her then.
*1Shanti literally means Peace, also a common Hindu name for girls in India
*2Tola means a hamlet, here it means a hamlet of the most downtrodden, hitherto untouchable castes, although that is long illegal, it is still uncommon for upper caste Indians (both Hindus and Muslims) to visit these areas.
*3Mala literally means a Garland, also a common Hindu name for girls in India