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Is There Justice Outside Courtrooms For A Rape Victim? Paulami Dutta Gupta’s New Book Shares The Tale

POSTED ON 11 Mar 2017
25 Min read

By Paulami DuttaGupta


Is there justice outside courtrooms for a rape victim? The law might take its own course, but what does a woman do when the society shuts its door on her? Onaatahof the earth is an adaptation of the National Award winning film by the same name. Onaatah was awarded the Best Khasi Film at the 63rd National Film awards.


Onaatah, a young victim of sexual assault, is shattered from inside. Shunned and shamed by the society, including the man she loved, she sees a very long and hopeless road ahead of her. When almost on the brink of giving up, she makes a journey, in search of hope, to discover her purpose in life. Along the way, she explores diversity of relationships and realises love has a vast and varied meaning.


Book Extract


Onaatah are you sure you will be able to do this?’ the aged doctor asked with concern in his eyes. Onaatah had been working on her shift since morning and their hospital did not have a quiet moment. That she would have to travel to the other part of the city for a patient disturbed him. The girl would kill herself with overwork someday.


Onaatah smiled. ‘I will be okay, doctor. And look at me. Do I look fatigued? No. Moreover, Sarah needs me. I know how difficult it is for her to get proper medical care for aunty. The least I can do is reach on time and give her this injection.’


‘I know, I know. But do you realise that you need to loosen up a bit? You have taken the idea of the noble profession too seriously. And your Peter doesn’t complain. How cool is that! When was the last time you had a holiday? Or at least went to the movies or for dinner?’ The doctor reached for his mug of coffee and took a sip. ‘Now shoo, go away. Shillong roads are so overcrowded, Lord help the commuters. By the way, are you sure you will get a taxi at this hour?’


Onaatah looked at the doctor for a while and then broke into peals of laughter. ‘You know what doctor, you need to walk out of this hospital and look around a bit. It is not that bad. And it is our good old Shillong. The most peaceful city I could think of. Imagine if we lived in one of those huge mad metros. And I think Madam is right about you. Age is catching up with you. I wonder how you can ignore such a lovely wife and stare at these white walls. Go for a picnic this Saturday. Dr. Tariang has already promised to cover for you.’


Onaatah looked at her watch. It was already seven.


This was their regular exercise. The aged doctor and Onaatah would remind each other about their nonexistent social lives and then happily go about the burdens at the hospital.


The area around the hospital will be overcrowded. But she would surely find a shared taxi, mused Onaatah. She did every time. Onaatah smiled and realised why her little sister Oritaah teased her and called her overconfident. The road outside the hospital was still a little wet from the rain. Onaatah hoped it wouldn’t pour now. She needed to reach Sarah’s house soon. That would give her a little more time with her mother. She held on to her bag and coat and walked faster, crossing many pedestrians on the way. When she reached the main road, Onaatah took a deep breath. In spite of all her bravado at office, she admitted it would be difficult to get onto a taxi. And a bus was out of question. It would be too crowded at this hour.


As Onaatah frantically waved at one taxi after another, she looked around and smiled. One after the other little black and yellow cabs passed and they looked like little cars at she and Oritaah owned as children. Some took in more passengers. Some did not stop. She watched the people riding bikes and scooters and the occasional public bus. She loved this business of the city. It made her feel alive. So what if the roads would get jammed and clogged. They were her own. Her chain of thoughts broke when a taxi stopped in front of her. Two chattering women alighted and Onaatah almost pushed a woman and jostled inside. Another woman got in and closed the door with a thud. Onaatah’s co-passenger shifted a little.


‘Easy Kong, in a hurry? That was quite a bit of wrestling.’ The driver said with a grin. Onaatah smiled weakly. She felt like a complete idiot. She hoped the woman sitting beside her would never recognise her. This was embarrassing.


There was MLTR playing from the car stereo and the music soothed her nerves. The journey was excruciatingly slow thanks to the city traffic and Onaatah quickly shot a message to Sarah. “Sarah must be worried. I wish I left a little early,” she thought. Onaatah also rehearsed about what she would tell her mother tonight. She was supposed to pick up her wedding dress that afternoon. Onaatah had forgotten all about it as two victims of a bike accident had been rushed into the emergency ward. Her mother would be livid at her forgetfulness. Onaatah smiled thinking how everyone around her was excited about her wedding and was busy planning things. Everyone, except her. She has been so caught up with work that she wondered if she would even reach the church on time for her wedding. The inflow of patients just didn’t stop. She would also need to apologise to Peter, her fiancé. They were supposed to decide on their honeymoon destination. There was also a wedding band to be selected. This weekend she would make everyone happy, she decided resolutely. Though the wedding was three months away, she could no longer delay things.


As they crossed Malki Point, Onaatah looked at the serpentine queue of cars ahead and wondered if she could quickly call Peter. “Maybe not. I will give him a call once I reach home. There’s a lot I need to tell him,” she thought as a smile adorned her lips. She had sampled an interior decor magazine the previous night and had loved a few designs. Just the kind she and Peter would love. Classy but not overdone, that would suit their new home. Even though tradition said, Peter would have to come and live with her and her parents, they had decided to live in a cosy little flat. Oritaah had complained, and so had Peter’s mother. While Oritaah didn’t want to miss out on the fun-filled opportunity to mercilessly tease her brother-in-law, Peter’s mother had been scandalised. This young generation was hell bent on changing customs. But they would need privacy, and given their crazy work hours, having a home to themselves would be pure bliss. So the idea of a new home was agreed upon. But a lot needed to be done about the decor and she would have to put in lot of time and energy into it.


She and Peter had met at a Mathematics tuition class when they were just about fourteen. The attraction had been instant. Peter was a nerd and Onaatah had loved reading books. They would exchange question papers, write answers together, and solve theorems and riders. Then when they were in class ten, they had decided to change the world, to help people heal. They would borrow books on medicine from the local library and dissect flowers and frogs to learn more about biology. When it was time for Peter to leave Shillong for his medical course, he had proposed to her. He had said he wanted to spend his entire life with her. And Onaatah didn’t have to think again to say yes. It was like they were in love forever. They finished each other’s incomplete sentences. They even knew each other’s thoughts, dreams and aspirations. He was the only man she had ever wanted. But they had decided to work on their respective careers, explore more about their individual professions and then settle down. That they were not married already was something their friends and families couldn’t understand. Onaatah realised she felt goose bumps at the thought of walking down the aisle to a waiting Peter. Her mother was right. She would have to collect her wedding dress and also work on Oritaah and Sarah’s bridesmaid costumes. She wondered how she would look in bridal attire and couldn’t contain her smile.


Is there justice outside courtrooms for a rape victim? The law might take its own course, but what does a woman do when the society shuts its door on her?


Onaatah, a young victim of sexual assault, is shattered from inside. Shunned and shamed by the society, including the man she loved, she sees a very long and hopeless road ahead of her. When almost on the brink of giving up, she makes a journey, in search of hope, to discover her purpose in life. Along the way, she explores diversity of relationships and realises love has a vast and varied meaning.


Does she find what she is looking for? Does she remain a victim or emerge as a survivor?


“I must say that all of us were very taken up with this film (Onaatah). It’s a very admirable effort, and the way it has been dealt with, very sensitively and very nicely. It is indeed one of the nicest films I have seen.” states Ramesh Sippy Padma Shri Chairperson of jury for feature category of NFA.


Awards for the film - Onaatah

Best Khasi Film at 63rd National Film Awards

Best Film Prag Cine award (North East)

Best Director (North East)

Best Actor—Female (North East)


Selections & Screening at Film Festivals

Closing film, 1st Festival of Cinema Manipur

11th Habitat Film Festival

Opening film, 1st Kharam Loya Film Festival

Indian Panorama, 47th International Film Festival of India

21st International Film Festival of Kerala

9th Guwahati International Film Festival

15th Pune International Film Festival

9th Bengaluru International Film Festival

9th International Film Festival of Thrissur

Fragrances from the North East–Pune

Toulouse Indian Film Festival


About the Author

Paulami DuttaGupta is a novelist and screenwriter. She shuttles between Kolkata and Shillong. She has worked as a radio artist, copywriter, journalist and a television analyst at various stages of life, having been associated with AIR Shillong, The Times of India—Guwahati-Shillong Plus, ETV Bangla, The Shillong Times, Akash Bangla and Sony Aath. Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines.


Paulami also writes on politics, social issues and cinema. Her articles have appeared in Swarajya, The Forthright, NElive,  The Frustrated Indian and Mumbai Mom. Paulami’s first film as screenwriter, Ri-Homeland of Uncertainty, was awarded the National Award for the Best Khasi Film at the 61st National Film awards. She is currently writing the screenplay of Iewduh, a Khasi film, and working on a couple of short films. Research on a documentary is also keeping her busy these days.

A Thousand Unspoken Words, her fourth book, was published by Readomania.

She can be reached at and @ShillongGal.

Onaatah is exclusively available on Amazon, Click here to buy your copy.


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Written by Piyusha Vir

Written by
Piyusha Vir

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