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Love, betrayal and caste oppression in an Unnao village

Police personnel march as family members and relatives carry the mortal remains of Unnao rape victim for cremation, at Unnao on December 8, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

After hours of emotional outrage and protests, the mortal remains of the Unnao rape victim were buried in the fields of her native village on Sunday, three days after she was set ablaze allegedly by five persons, including two men accused of raping her last December.

The body, which reached the village from Delhi at around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, could be interred only at noon on Sunday. 

The victim's family which was adamant that the body, placed on slabs of ice outside their thatched dwelling, would be moved only if Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited them and assured instant capital punishment to the culprits, relented after hours of negotiations with Divisional Commissioner of Lucknow Mukesh Meshram.

Love, betrayal and caste oppression

Overshadowing the emotional farewell to the Unnao rape victim, who was laid to rest beside the family mausoleum of her grandparents on Sunday, is tale of love, betrayal and caste oppression in a tiny village in Uttar Pradesh.

As in most cases of rape, the victim and the main accused had known each other since they were in school. As per an FIR lodged in March, 2019, the woman accused Shivam Trivedi, 24, and Shubham Trivedi, 25, of gang-raping her at gunpoint in a field in Rae Bareli last December. An FIR was registered only a protracted struggle by the family and the intervention of a local court.

As per the sequence of events in the FIR, the victim said Shivam had first “lured her in a love trap” and raped her. He also allegedly videographed the act. In her complaint, the woman alleged that after the initial incident of rape, Shivam continued to rape her by giving false promises of marriage and threatened to make the video public. According to the complaint, Shivam even lived with the woman in a rented room in Rae Bareli for a short while and allegedly also prepared false marriage papers to mislead the victim.

However, the victim’s family and villagers have different versions of events. Her sister said the victim never pressurised Shivam to marry her and her father said the boy’s family had agreed for marriage but the village pradhan did not allow it due to caste differences — the victim’s family belong to a backward caste and her father is blacksmith.

“Due to this reason, the matter got entangled. The talks [of a compromise) were almost final. But the pradhan said this marriage won't happen. This clash continued due to that,” the father said.

Lucknow IG S.K. Bhagat, speaking to the media on Thursday evening after the woman was set ablaze, said prima facie it appeared that the woman knew Shivam, who “physically exploited” her on the promise of marriage.

Even as the victim was buried in a tiny plot of land beside the mausoleum of her grandparents in her village on Sunday, amid a large contingent of police and a large crowd including leaders of the Samajwadi Party and Congress, an eerie quiet envelops the other end of the village where the dominant Brahmin families live.

The families of Shivam Trivedi and Shubham Trivedi, who are accused of rape, their fathers Ramkishor Trivedi and Harishankar Trivedi (the pradhan’s husband) respectively, and a fifth associate Umesh Bajpai, claimed they were being falsely implicated and have demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Shivam’s mother Saroj Trivedi insisted her son is innocent and falsely charged in the rape case as well as the murder.

On December 5, when the woman was set ablaze in around 4:15 a.m., Ms. Trivedi claims her son and husband were at home sleeping.

“At 5:13 a.m., Shivam’s friend called him for a run. He was preparing for police job. At 5:30 a.m., he put on his clothes and left home. Police came at 6 a.m. and asked about him. After that, the police went to the location near our borewell in search of him along with my nephew,” she said.

Umesh’s sister also argued he was a victim of media trial and claimed her brother was asleep at home when police picked him up. “Wouldn't he have escaped somewhere if he had committed the crime,” she asked.

But outside their thatched hut, the victim’s giref-stricken sister, her face covered by a dupatta, was determined to ensure justice.

“First and foremost, I want those who burned my sister to be shot dead in an encounter. If they [government] don't do it and show laxity in getting me justice, I will commit suicide in Yogi's durbar,” she told The Hindu.

Family members say the vcitim was walking to the railway station to catch a train to Rae Bareli to inquire from the court how Shivam, was granted bail in just two-and-a-half months. While Shubham, the pradhan’s son, was not arrested for the rape, Shivam was put behind bars on September 19. However, he was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court on November 25 and released five days later. Over the past one year and more recently after his release on bail, Shivam and his associates had threatened the victim with dire consequences if she did not withdraw the rape case, her sister said.

Asked why the victim was walking alone to the station early morning despite the threats, her sister said she had done that many times before. “Sometimes I would drop her off but other times she went alone,” she said. “She regularly received threats that she would be killed or burned,” said the sister, adding that family of the accused family had offered them ₹2.5 lakh to withdraw the case.

The victim’s father also spoke of a caste-angle to the events leading up to the murder. Umesh uncle’s Sumesh Bajpai also pleaded innocence on behalf of his nephew and the other accused. “If they are guilty, you can hang or kill them. Or else, let them free,” he said.

Mr. Mesharam said since the victim family has “limited resources,” the government would provide them additional support. The government has already said the case would be run in a fast track court and handed a cheque of ₹25 lakh as ex-gratia relief to the family.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 9:15:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/unnao-rape-victim/article30236853.ece

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