A.D. Ramananda is a beacon of hope and kindness in a twisted world. A world where those who want to do good are mocked for choosing service over fame and wealth. A world where rape victims are afraid to speak out and those who do are either not believed, or kicked around by the system. Where teachers work for free because their funds are misappropriated by the very government that should see to their interests. These are the people 55-year-old Ramananda, an advocate, chooses to represent and defend. “Rape victims should be bold, as should their families,” he says. Fighting for what is right is a thankless job but
Ramananda, who recalls some of his most disturbing cases, tells
M.K. Ashoka that serving people is the only thing he wants to do.
“People call me a joker.” A.D. Ramananda, a senior advocate here in Bengaluru, has had to face the brunt of his peers’ scorn. After all, not many lawyers would choose to spend their time working pro bono, to defend victims of rape. That’s what this elderly advocate does, speaking up for victims of rape in a country where they are ostracised, where ‘don’t tell anyone, it will spoil the girl’s image and ruin the family’ and worse, ‘marry the rapist’, is still the mantra in the face of sexual crimes.
“Marry the rapist’ sounds dreadful but it was as recently as 2012 when Ramananda was approached by a Muslim man, whose daughter, a minor, had been raped and made pregnant by an adult. Theirs was an orthodox community, so much so that the elders insisted that the young victim be forced to marry the man who raped her. Her school expelled her, which, to her father, who had gone to great pains to educate his daughter, was the biggest blow of all.
“I had to prove that pregnancy was possible without any noticeable symptoms,” he recalls. “The girl had given birth to a child in a moving auto.” The school refused to let the girl back in, claiming that other parents insisted she be expelled, as she could be a ‘bad influence’ on the other students. “I approached the High Court of Karnataka,” says Ramananda. “The court said the girl should be given an education. The story of the girl became hot news across the country and almost every media outlet took up the case. They found out then that I was working pro bono,” he says.
The victim’s father attracted the wrath of his community - as did Ramananda.
In another instance, a group of college students was arrested and jailed for ragging. As it turned out, the case was false and the supposed perpetrators were all rank students. “There was no ragging at all in that college. But the principal decided to put the students in their place by calling the police. Other students were made to write a falsified complaint. This became big news across Karnataka,” says Ramananda. Several newspapers went so far as to carry fake news saying the boys had made the girls dance nude in Cubbon Park.
Later, the principal himself, in a sudden attack of conscience, submitted an affidavit saying none of those students had been involved. The supposed victims also submitted an affidavit saying they had not been ragged at all. “It was brought to light that the whole affair had been set up to threaten the students. A complaint was lodged and the police had booked a false case. Justice Chinnappa had presided over the hearings and quashed the case.” That’s when newspapers first turned their attention onto the bold advocate and he began to gain fame.
How he began
Ramananda grew up in Bengaluru, studying in Rajajinagar Parents’ Association School. He wanted to be an engineer, but missed the admission by 1 percent. He then joined the Government Science College, part of the first batch of B.Sc students to study ‘Instrumentation’.
“After that, I started teaching,” he says. “Even as a student, however, I was writing books of notes in Physics and Chemistry and conducted a refresher course. I was making an income as I studied,” he says.
His first encounter with law came almost by chance. He happened to be teaching at the United Mission School, where the Havanoor Law College conducted classes in the evenings. “I joined the law course. I am a lawyer by profession today but I am still good at science - I teach Mathematics even at the engineering level,” he says.
Helping other people, clearly, was always in his nature and he would always reach out to those who struggled- those who failed or didn’t have the same things as their peers. “My students went on to become doctors and engineers,” he says, proudly. “Even as a lawyer, I always put myself in the shoes of my clients. I saw their pain and worked with honesty. I didn’t’ fear the judges or anyone. In the 26 years of my practice, I have stood up for what is right.”
Defending rape victims
“I had taken up a case defending victims who were known to my family.” The victims belonged to an Indian origin family living in the United States. It began when the 14-year-old victim started screaming through the night, and wetting the bed. She was the one who gathered the courage to tell her story. “The girl’s father wanted to give the girl to the man who was abusing her. Their three-year-old daughter was a rape victim and nobody had known. I gave them accommodation and assured them that we were on their side.”
The 14-year-old’s admission of having been raped didn’t motivate the family to speak out. “They knew, but they were afraid to make it public. I convinced them to do so.”
A case was registered with the US Federal Police, who acted immediately. The perpetrator, it turned out, was a sex maniac and made many videos. “I got a message that he had admitted his guilt and he was tracked because he was part of a paedophile ring, which made videos of child sex abuse and selling them for huge amounts of money. A big mafia was brought to book and a lot of young girls were saved.”
He recounts another case, describing the victim as having been ‘very thin’. Again, they refused to speak. Ramananda made the daughter and her mother sit together and meditate on the cause of the daughter’s behaviour. The girl, who was eight years old, was clearly very sharp but also disturbed. She was rolling around the room, Ramananda recalls. “The mother was a sex slave and the girl had been witnessing all sorts of horrors.”
One year-old victim
“Recently, I took up a case where the victim was only one-year-old,” he says. “I have videos of the baby girl being put through extreme torture.” It is difficult to detect abuse in babies, he says, even in a medical examination. But there are signs. “The baby will kick anyone who carries it. It will also be restless. And there will be bed-wetting. There will be obvious, extreme fear.”
The victim’s grandfather, in this case, has a doctorate degree in Psychology. “Still, none of the victims are ready to file a case. He couldn’t diagnose what was wrong with his grandchild and was reluctant to file a case because he was scared for his daughter’s life. He thought she would be killed by her husband. They each have their own worries.”
In one case from Jharkhand, a young boy was being abused by his own father. “The mother had been begging her husband to visit prostitutes, to leave the son alone. But the father would not listen. This kind of deadly behaviour is spreading,” he says.”
He does everything he can for his clients, many of whom come to him with nothing. “They don’t have proper food, sometimes. I help them out, even try to provide accommodation.”
Victims aren’t believed
Most people assume that the stories of rape are fictitious, he says. “But the truth is the truth. It is worse than cancer. Even today, victims are tested with the one-finger and two-finger tests. This is barbaric. Rape is still ascertained by inserting fingers into the victim! There is better technology available,” says Ramananda, who has made submissions in this regard.
SPEAK UP, he tells victims
“Victims should be bolder about speaking out. The media should also take these issues more seriously. Lakhs of children in the country are being abused and need rehabilitation. The rape victim becomes consumed by fear, unable to face the world. 99 percent of them take their grievances to the grave, rather than expose them to the world.”
Ramananda is 55 years old today, with a wife and two children in college, as well as a 95-year-old father. Today, he is in the midst of working with senior citizens who are abused by their children. “I want to purchase land and give these people a place,” he says. “They are old but are like children now and need care. They gave their children wealth and property, only to be tortured in return. All I want to do is help these people and as many others as I can, until the end of my days.”...