The trial of a French Consulate employee, accused of raping his minor daughter, has begun in Bangalore. His wife Suja Jones speaks to Open on her battle for justice and why is it important to listen carefully to your child
After Suja Jones filed a complaint against her French husband Pascal Mazurier for the rape and other forms of sexual abuse of their three-year-old daughter, one of the police officers, a woman, at the Bangalore High Grounds Police station gave her some advice. “She said ‘In our families, we don’t take this kind of thing outside,’” recalls Jones. “She said I should have found a way to ‘help him’ myself.” The trial against Mazurier, an employee of the French Foreign Ministry stationed in Bangalore, has finally begun. Mazurier, who is accused of rape and paedophilia, was arrested on 19 June 2012 but has been out on bail since last October. On 28 June 2012, Jones wrote a letter to Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde describing the aggressive and humiliating interrogation she was subjected to after filing her complaint. Shinde agreed to meet Jones’ lawyers to hear their case, but no further action has been taken.
This week, angry groups protested in front of Shinde’s residence in Delhi, raging at the inefficiency, the apathy, the callousness of the authorities in dealing with the rape of the five-year-old girl found crying and mutilated in a locked room in the capital. It is a mass outrage that Jones understands. Jones holds her three small children close. “I never feel completely safe anymore,” she says. Over the past ten months, since filing the complaint, Jones has learnt that the Home Ministry and law enforcement system are only two of the problems a woman has to overcome when looking for justice for her abused child. Jones has faced vicious insults by men’s rights activists, fought off official complaints by Mazurier’s parents that she is neglecting, perhaps even drugging the children, and faced landlords who have refused to rent out their flats to her. And despite their official declarations of neutrality, the loyalty of the French administration seems to lie more with the accused than with the four-year-old child, though she too is a French citizen. Jones has even received an online death threat: ‘I don’t know you,’ wrote one commenter, ‘but when I do, you are as good as dead.’
In the din, it is easy to forget the hero of this story—a little girl called Isabel (name changed to protect identity). Faced with a painful reality she would not accept, Isabel did not give up, naming her ongoing ordeal with her three-year-old voice, trusting someone would finally hear her:
“He made bobo on my zheezhee (hurt my genitals).”
“He put something filthy in my mouth.”
“This is a nice uncle” (looking at a photo of a movie star) “Will he do bobo to me too?”
“I should have heard, I should have known,” says her mother, “…the fog of denial was just so strong.” In June last year, undeterred, Isabel managed at last to break through the fog. According to the results of official medical examinations, she had been a victim of ongoing sexual abuse, rape, sodomy. According to the chargesheet prepared by the Bangalore police, the perpetrator is Isabel’s father, Pascal Mazurier, who is an employee (now suspended) of the French consulate in Bangalore. Mazurier and his lawyers deny the charges. “I would have given anything, anything, for it not to be true,” says Jones. “I let my love for my husband and my own self-doubt keep me blind for far too long.”
“When a woman is raped,” says 38-year-old Jones, who was born and raised in Calcutta, “it is her own fault. When a little girl is raped, it is the mother’s fault.”
We are sharing a simple lunch in the modest living room of her new rented flat, homey and warm but nothing like the more luxurious space she lived in with her husband and their three children while living on his French salary (this salary, since the time of Mazurier’s arrest, is being deposited by his French employers into a new bank account, one Jones has no access to). A single mom now, and in constant financial struggle, Jones says she feels completely awake for the first time in her life. Of slight frame with a dignified bearing, beautiful in the turquoise sari she had worn to the morning court session, she sits with a mountain of papers piled before her, cross-coded with different coloured Post-its. As she speaks, she expertly flips through them to find the documents relevant to the points she is making, analysing the details with perfect clarity and confidence. “I was not always this way,” she says, “I used to be just a silly girl. I’m all grown up now. Better late than never.”
Suja Jones and Pascal Mazurier met in Calcutta 13 years ago. Jones, the daughter of Kerala Christians, an English honours graduate with a diploma in Travel and Tourism studies, was working in a travel agency. Mazurier was in town doing his French National Service in the French consulate. They fell in love. Jones visited Paris and met his family. Later he returned to Calcutta to ask her parents for her hand. “My mom did not mind much that he was not an Indian,” she says, “…the fact that he was a fellow Christian was good enough.” The couple married in Paris in 2001, and Mazurier joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served, with Jones at his side, in Bangladesh, Chad and from 2010, in Bangalore. “We loved each other so much,” says Jones, “we were so proud of our love, proud that we were able to manage so well across the national divide.” They were a good looking couple, and enjoyed time in nature as well as partying with friends (she loved to dance). Jones says her husband was charming, good looking, funny, a devoted dad and often the life of parties. “I made myself quite small in our marriage,” she says, “I thought he was amazing and I was nobody. I let him decide things, even things like who the children could or could not play with. It was subtle, but he was the boss.”
But there was something shadowy about their world, she believes, which she could sense but did everything in her power to ignore. According to Jones, sometime after the birth of Isabel her husband turned violent. She says he hit their oldest son and he hit her twice during a pregnancy. Mazurier needed hospital treatment after hurting his own hand by pounding on a door she was hiding behind with the children. “Somehow,” she says, “he didn’t fit my image of an abusive husband. He always used to say he was so sorry, and otherwise he was wonderful.” In 2010, after her husband pushed her violently against a wall during her next pregnancy, her doctor advised Jones in strong words to seek professional counselling for her husband and herself. Jones had a long conversation with him and he apologised. “It was maybe three months later,” she says, “that he started on Isabel.”
Isabel, then three and very close to her father, began to speak of what was happening to her; Jones began noticing disturbing physical signs. “He had explanations for everything,” she says, “it was only the soap in the shower; it was only sliding too much on the slide. He used to say I was jealous of his great relationship with Isabel. I wanted to believe in the happy story that my daughter is well bonded with her father and I was just a jealous mom, a pregnant, then breastfeeding, hormonal, silly housewife imagining all kinds of things about the man I loved, who was a good husband in a respectable position, held by many in such high regard. I thought ‘if he says it was the soap that hurt her, then of course it was the soap that hurt her and how wrong of me to pay attention to what Isabel was saying’.”
In June last year, Isabel spoke more clearly than ever, and her mother, unable to ignore it any longer, took her for professional and medical testing, at a children’s health NGO and at a hospital. On 14 June 2012, armed with the results of those examinations (genital lacerations, rectal gaping, an absent hymen, and sperm in her vagina), Jones went to the police. “Until the very end I resisted,” she says, trying to smile, shaking her head, calling herself stupid, then breathing deeply to regain her composure, “I was saying… no, I will only take the kids to my parents’ for some time; he will get some help, it will all be OK. I could not bear to do it. I loved him. I was a mess.” Mazurier was picked up for questioning and released the next day. He was not arrested until five days later, on 19 June, as French Consul General Eric Lavertu told the police there was some doubt about whether Mazurier has diplomatic immunity (there was no doubt; he does not).
On 25 June, Jones herself was interrogated for four hours by six police officers, one of them a woman. She says she was asked about her sex life with her husband before and after marriage (what she ‘did’ with him), and about her supposed lovers. They questioned her family’s ethics and morality, accused her of media hunger and racism against the French, and demanded she reveal if she had been abused as a child. “I can’t decide if the police are antagonistic or only insensitive,” she says, “…whether they have been bribed, or if this is just the way they are with everyone.” To add to the victim’s ordeal, the police ordered Isabel be taken for another internal examination. This one had the little girl on a bed in the delivery ward, with women screaming and blood on the floor. Later, the police admitted this examination was not required as the results of the previous one were irrefutable. NGO Human Right Watch has included this incident in its recent report on the sexual abuse of children in India.
After his arrest, Mazurier was let out on bail and will remain on bail during the trial. The children’s passports (they are French nationals and the passports are their only official documents) are being held by the French consulate. The French embassy told Open that “according to French law, in case of a disagreement between the parents, the decision to hand over their children’s passports to one of them cannot be taken by the consulate authority but the ‘competent jurisdiction’”. But the court in Bangalore has given (temporary) full custody of the children to their mother. Does the French government doubt that the Bangalore court is indeed the ‘competent jurisdiction’? Besides, this is not a dispute between two parents; the Government of India has put Mazurier on trial for raping his daughter. The only ‘disagreement between the parents’ is the injunction Jones has received from the civil court granting her custody while the father is on trial.
The French consulate also told Open: “Before anything else, we should all think of the suffering of a little girl who has been brutalised in an inhuman way. And we must do everything we can to help her recover and build her future.” Asked for an example of how they have or would like to offer Isabel help, the consulate had nothing to say. While still in police custody, Mazurier wrote several cheques, amounting to Rs 4.3 lakh, to the Deputy Consul of France in Bangalore, Vincent Caumontat, practically emptying the joint account from which Jones would have managed her household expenses. “Why did the Deputy Consul agree to receive this money and what did he do with it?” asks Jones. (According to the French embassy: “This money was used to pay [Mazurier’s] lawyers’ fees, which are very high in India, and to meet various expenses related to this”). During the High Court bail hearings, Caumontat was present at Mazurier’s side, as Lavertu has been during the court hearings (“The Consulate employees have always attended court hearings in complete neutrality,” the French embassy told Open. “They have been present not alongside Mr Pascal Mazurier, but in the back rows as observers.” In an act that angered feminists and some of the press in France, the ‘office of President Hollande’ received the lawyers of Mazurier for a meeting in Paris. Only after the outcry and Jones’ requests did the office of the President at last agree to see the lawyers representing Isabel and Jones, as well.
Mazurier’s parents, with the assistance of the French Consul in Bangalore, registered a complaint of concern against Jones with Bangalore’s Child Welfare Committee, saying the children were dirty, appeared to be drugged and that one of the children was obese. (Lavertu did not file a complaint but did make a personal visit on the matter to the CWC). The officials who visited the house filed a report in which they found the children to be alert, doing well, with plenty of books and toys. Mazurier himself, through his lawyers, has claimed that Jones is “a party animal”, that she never really wanted to care for the children, and that this is all a ruse because she did not want to move with him to Cape Town where he was supposed to be posted next. “I had no problem with the move to Cape Town,” says Jones, “…and besides, if I didn’t want to have children, if all I wanted to do was party, can you imagine a more complicated way to go about it?”
Several men’s rights groups in India, among them one called CRISP, have taken up Mazurier’s cause. These activists not only appear in court to show their support but leave hateful comments against Jones at the end of most online news reports. Someone opened a well-viewed fake Facebook page in her name, which said: ‘Hello, my name is Suja, professional call girl, I am a liar, I need help, I manipulated all of this because I do not want to go to South Africa.’
“It is now easy for me to understand why women do not come out when such things happen in their homes,” says Jones, “why women in these situations are driven to take their own lives.”
It is early afternoon. We are again in Jones’ flat, the children are soon to come home from school, but for now all is quiet, the toys and books still tidy in their shelves. “People confront me all the time: ‘How could you not know, what kind of a mother are you?’” Jones speaks without flinching, not outwardly. “I have no words to express my regret. Now all I can do is continue this fight for justice and hope that many others learn from my stupidity. Moms, dads: be attuned to your girls and boys; if something is wrong, they will try to reveal it. There are things that children say and things that children don’t say—learn to tell the difference. Incest is a very careful form of rape, the perpetrators are very careful to hide their actions. If you have any suspicion, you must make sure the child is examined thoroughly. I can now say that I always got a kind of inner jolt every time Isabel said something and I immediately pushed it away, put my mind somewhere else. You must fight the fog of denial with all your might.”
Isabel, now four, is doing better. According to the professionals working with her, and because her mother finally listened, removed the perpetrator, and sought treatment, there is a good chance Isabel will grow and thrive; but of the scars, we cannot know. She still talks about ‘zheezhee’ ‘bobo’, and sometimes shares new details of things that happened and how they made her feel. “She is making new friends, doing more at school,” says Jones. “She loves to swim and play basketball. I have started taking them to church, too—not for the rituals but as a source of comfort. We never used to do that but they seem to really like it. And I make sure we dance and sing together, act silly, have fun; sometimes at the end of the day I am so exhausted, or discouraged, and I look up at them, their sweet faces looking back at me, and I feel my courage return. Sometimes the kids say they love and miss their father. I tell them I love him and miss him too. Fourteen years of loving cannot disappear overnight.”
“My oldest used to say, ‘Mama, you will not survive, you are small, and you have cried so much.’ He hasn’t said that in a while. The other day I took Isabel to my room and picked her up in front of the mirror and showed her: Isabel Mama, Mama Isabel… we are together, I am your amma, I am strong, you are safe in my arms. I saw something in her face relax. She is my hero, my tender lioness. I love her so much.”