The promise hope holdsFive years back, when Shrinkhala was preparing for her twelfth grade examinations, she encountered her fate.
“What are we going to do? Why doesn’t this girl listen to me?” Dhankala cries hysterically.
“Why do you always have to talk about the same thing day and night? Don’t you get tired?” Karnabir questions his wife.
“I can’t take it anymore. I’ve tolerated beyond my abilities and now my patience has expired,” Dhankala says as she wipes her tears.
“Come on now; don’t act puerile. Shrinkhala is only 24. Don’t you remember Madanlal, the only gold shop owner of our village? His daughter got married last year and she was 26,” Karnabir tries to calm his wife.
“No, I’ve had enough. This girl is a disgrace to our family, a curse that we are living with,” she says.
Hearing this, Shrinkhala runs upstairs towards her room, bursting into tears.
“You’ve lost your mind,” Karnabir scolds his wife and runs after his daughter.
He knocks on the door several times but Shrinkhala doesn’t respond. Dejected by his daughter’s obstinacy and irated by his wife’s act, he goes outside.
Karnabir Acharya is a retired government officer and Dhankala is a housewife. Shrinkhala is their only child. The Acharya family are residents of Dunai, the headquarters of Dolpa district. At the age of 17, Shrinkhala passed her SLC with distinction. She was the topper of her class. She was envied by most of the girls in her village, not only because of her intellect, but her enthralling beauty. Almost half of the village boys wanted her as their wife.
Dhankala’s only wish is for her daughter to get married but it hasn’t been an easy task to find a boy for her. In the past three years, more than fifty boys have visited Shrinkhala for marriage, only to reject her. Dhankala is growing old and impatient. The qualities of her daughter could have effortlessly garnered the attention of every boy in the village but providence made it industrious for Shrinkhala.
Five years back, when Shrinkhala was preparing for her twelfth grade examinations, she encountered her fate. One morning, Mr and Mrs Acharya had gone to the temple instructing Shrinkhala to feed the cattle. They had four cows and a buffalo. At 8:30 in the morning, just when Shrinkhala was feeding the animals, a tall black figure stood before her.
“Jay Sambho,” he cried out loud. He was a sadhu with long dreadlocked hair, wearing long yellow robes, carrying a brass pot in his right hand and a wooden stick in his left.
“Feed me, my child. I’m hungry,” he said to Shrinkhala.
“Sure, baba. You can rest over there while I bring the food,” she replied, pointing at the chair in their garden.
As soon as she went inside, the saint followed her discreetly. Two hours later, her parents arrived home to find Shrinkhala unconscious, lying on the floor with her trousers half torn and soaked in blood. She regained consciousness an hour later in the district hospital. She was in a catatonic state and unable to comprehend the catastrophe befallen upon her. The doctors were appalled. There were no bruises on her upper body. But her reproductive organs had been fondled with and she had been sodomised.
To her right was her father, holding her hand and crying at his daughter’s agony. Her mother was leaning on the door lamenting over the shame and humiliation she had invited to the family. She just stood there staring at her daughter with a condescending look in her tacit eyes intimating ‘no one is going to marry you now’. The policemen entered and tried to question her but all she could remember was the sadhu following her inside the house and blowing a handful of ash to her face as soon as she had turned around. They never found him.
Shrinkhala spent two years fighting depression. After surmounting the mental anguish, her mother started inviting boys to her house to see Shrinkhala. But none of the village boys were interested in her now. The plethora of wedding proposals that had overwhelmed the Acharya family at one time vanished into thin air. Dhankala hired a local matchmaker, Kumari, who managed to find boys for Shrinkhala from other villages but all in vain. Dhankala even found boys from neighbouring districts but neither her obsequiousness nor her daughter’s entrancing charm and aptitude could arrest the boys because the news of her rape had spread like a wildfire. There were few boys unaware of Shrinkhala’s incident but her veracity prompted the rejections. She never lied to anyone.
At quarter past seven in the night, Karnabir called his daughter for dinner. The whole family ate in absolute silence. Karnabir gobbled down his food and quickly went to his daughter’s room to wait for her there. Dhankala was incensed by her husband’s act. She started washing dishes and Shrinkhala went upstairs to her room.
“Don’t take it to your heart, dear. Don’t listen to your mother. She is a lousy old virago. All she cares about is the society and their mundane talks,” Karnabir says in an attempt to console his daughter.
“It’s not fair, Papa. I don’t want to marry someone who resents my past. Moreover, I am not a commodity to be rejected. I am a woman and every woman wants to be loved, deserves to be loved. I am not a victim, subject to their fleeting commiseration and schadenfreude. Why do women have to endure all the ramifications of rape? Answer me, Papa,” Shrinkhala demands an explanation.
“Rape is not the only reason for your rejection. It’s the trappings that accompany it. The boys are daunted by the consequences they will confront after marriage. Those families have acknowledged and envisioned the mockery and gloat of the society. These mere mortals reckon you only as a victim, victim of a horrible nightmare which haunts even the most valorous men. Rape is an egregious malady which the society reproaches but more than that, it blatantly detests the victims of it. It welcomes the rapists and outcasts it’s sufferers.”
“I condemn this uncivilised and barbaric society where men reserve the right to choose or reject a woman. The men of this patriarchal society boast of their gallantry and chivalry but they lack the courage to marry a raped woman. They hound promiscuous women imploring them for making love but they want their wife to be consecrated and pious. Replete with imperfections, they desire an impeccable wife. In my eyes, they are nothing but a eunuch.”
“It’s the way society is, my dear. But this society is not only endemic to cowardly and blinkered people. There are rebels, iconoclasts, revolutionaries, unsung heroes who don’t conform to the conventions and superstitions of this society. And, you are blessed, my child, with colossal fortitude and you deserve someone as courageous as you. You just wait and let your fate decide. Now, let’s not dwell on these petty matters because it’s getting late and you must go to bed. We need to be ready to face your mother tomorrow,” Karnabir says, putting on a smile to cheer up his daughter.
“Sure, Papa,” Shrinkhala replies with a smile.
The clock struck quarter to nine and Karnabir switched off the light and went to his room. Shrinkhala just sat there engulfed in melancholy with a tinge of hope in her dejected heart, a dream of promising future in her mind and a feeble smile in her face.