It’s a story that evokes empathy, anger and outrage. It’s a name that’s synonymous with women’s movement in India. And yet justice continues to elude Bhanwari Devi. A low caste woman, a saathin, a grassroots worker employed as part of the Women's Development Project in Rajasthan, Bhanwari Devi was merely doing her job. Employed to stem social evil, to discourage child marriage, Bhanwari would go door to door convincing families not to marry off their young daughters. The mainly high caste population of her village, the Gujjar community, didn’t appreciate Bhanwari’s interference. When Bhanwari dared to report a child marriage in her village, she was brutally raped by the men in front of her husband. This was in 1992. What followed became India’s shame. At each step, from police stations, to hospitals to even courts, Bhanwari Devi was called a liar and her dignity shred to pieces. A nationwide campaign for justice for Bhanwari Devi followed. And yet after 15 years, in 2007, Rajasthan High Court held only one hearing on the case and two of the accused were dead.
Bhanwari Devi was raped while performing her work. A PIL by various women’s groups at the Supreme Court under the collective platform of Vishaka 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 victory for Bhanwari Devi's fight for justice.
Bhanwari Devi continues to be ostracized by her village. She lives on the outskirts of the village Bhateri, just 55 kms from Jaipur, with her husband who’s supported her fight throughout. She now runs a self help group with other women from her community and works with an NGO to support her family.