A wintry evening in December 2012 became the subject of national headlines, when the news of a brutal gangrape – which came to be known as he Nirbhaya case- surfaced. It shook India’s soul. Amid nationwide protests and public outrage against such heinous crimes, came many insensitive statements too – even from those in power.
For instance, Jitender Chhatar, a khap leader from Haryana, had told media, “To my understanding, consumption of fast food contributes to such incidents. Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance evoking an urge to indulge in such acts.”
He was not alone, there were several khap panchayats who blamed women for the brutal acts inflicted upon them. As a state, Haryana has always been inherently patriarchal, where women are often victims of this domination. Jitender, too, was heavily influenced by this regressive mindset, but his willingness to unlearn and break the shackles of patriarchy makes him a role model for many.
About five years ago, he married a rape survivor from a neighbouring village. Since then, Jitender, who has two children now, has been fighting legal battles to get her justice. He had met her only once before their wedding, when she told him about how she was gangraped by eight men, at the age of 19. Instead of calling off the alliance, Jitender decided to marry her and work towards the upliftment of women in the state.
Smashing generations of patriarchy
According to the State Crime Record Bureau, Haryana records a gangrape every second day, and five rapes every day. Atrocities against women are often attributed to centuries of indoctrination coupled with regressive attitudes of its all-powerful khap panchayats. Although Jitender was brought up in a similar society, he believes that his upbringing was different from others.
“My mother is a strong woman, who believes that men and women are equal. She never treated my sister differently from me. We were encouraged to think independently and do what is right. I knew my 2012 statement was wrong on so many levels and I wanted to undo it with my actions,” Jitender recently told The Better India.
Leading by example, Jitender began working with the Thua Khap Panchayat in the fight against female foeticide in 24 villages of Jind. He has also helped other men understand feminism, and educated them about treating women as equal.
He is also a part of an organisation called ‘Youth Against Rape’ that has a growing member base of lawyers, social activists and other citizens in Haryana. The organisation helps women with free legal advice and in filing FIRs, as well as educates school children about their legal rights.
A long fight for justice
It was five years ago that Jitender and his wife filed a new FIR against the perpetrators. The progress has been slow; but this hasn’t deterred the duo. In fact, they have been running from pillar to post to get justice, and finally, their case is being filed in the Chandigarh High Court against the main accused.
“We embarked on the challenging path with unconditional faith in the judiciary. We did not want to be an example that affirms the lawlessness of our country. We want to be the ones that gave hope and courage to every sexual assault survivor. We are not going to let those perpetrators get away easily,” Jitender has said.
In a country where women are in the constant danger of assault or harassment, men like Jitender surely give hope.
(Edited by Athira Nair)