Three months on, wounds remain raw in Hathras

The CRPF post outside the gang rape victim’s house at Boolgarhi in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras where every visitor has to sign a register.   | Photo Credit: Anuj Kumar

The towering bajra crops have given way to wheat saplings. The change in seasons is palpable in the fields of Boolgarhi.

Three months after his 19-year-old daughter was brutalised in the millet fields by four upper caste men, there is a semblance of smile on the face of the father of the victim, whose death and midnight cremation without the family’s consent shook the conscience of the nation.

Hathras gang rape | Cremation of victim shocked our conscience, says Allahabad High Court

Doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani kar diya (the wheat has been separated from the chaff),” he says, referring to the recent Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charge sheet filed in a Hathras court.

In the chargesheet, Sandeep, 20, Ramu, 26, Ravi, 35, and Luvkush, 21, have been arraigned under sections 376, 376D, 302 and relevant sections of the SC/ST Act. The four accused are lodged in Aligarh district jail and have undergone a narco test at a government lab in Ahmedabad.

“We haven’t seen the document, but we have been told that it is a step in the direction to send the culprits to the gallows,” says the father, sitting on a cot in the inner courtyard of his residence, covered by eight CCTV cameras, concertina wires from two sides, and a posse of CRPF.

The CBI investigation is not the only ray of hope for the traumatised family. Despite the tense and polarised atmosphere in the village, the neighbouring Brahmin family has agreed to share crop on their fields.

Hathras gang rape | In video, victim says she was raped

“It was impossible to cultivate in this atmosphere,” the girl’s father says.

His neighbour, Jagdish Chandra Pachauri, who doesn’t like to offer a glass of water to strangers, says social hierarchies remain in the village but adds, “We stand for each other as well.”

“They needed somebody to cultivate their fields. I agreed and sowed wheat in his field. We will share the harvest. There is nothing wrong in this and nobody could stop me from doing this. Those who have done wrong will have to suffer,” says Mr. Pachauri.

However, concerns of the victim’s family remain.

Hathras gang rape | A long caste feud, a horrific crime, and a sudden cremation

“Neither the pradhan (headman) of the village, the elected representative, nor her son has cared to come and commiserate with us,” says the father. “Those who are coming, we don’t know what their purpose is. We have received a threat over the phone that ‘you would not be safe anywhere’,” he claims.

And he reiterates the family’s demand borne out of fear: “We want the case to be shifted to Delhi and arrangements be made for our stay there.”

It doesn’t mean surrendering the land of their forefathers, he says but reflects the impact of the tragedy. “We respected social hierarchy and many in the village acknowledge this... We didn’t cross the line. All these years, we folded hands from outside the temple. We offered Ganga water to our peepul, our tulsi (basil). Still, our daughters are not safe and we can’t cremate our dead with dignity,” he says with bitterness.

The younger brother of the victim points out that no action has been taken against the “insensitive” district magistrate.

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“The High Court has taken the senior officials to task for the late-night cremation of my sister. We have a tradition where unmarried boys and girls are buried. We have not immersed her ashes because we still don’t know who was burnt that night,” he says referring to the hurried and clandestine cremation of the victim without the family’s permission.

The family is also worried about the future.

“The ex-gratia compensation of ₹25 lakhs has come but we are yet to hear on the job for a family member and a house that the Chief Minister promised. My younger brother and I were working in Delhi-NCR before the lockdown. Each of us were earning around ₹10,000. We want to return to normal life. My father also made around by ₹3,000 by working as a sanitary supervisor in a local private school. For how long, will we remain confined,” the brother asks.

The victim’s elder brother refutes allegations that the the girl was having an affair with one of the accused, Sandeep, as the CBI chargesheet reportedly says, on the basis of call records.

Also read | A tale of two deaths

“Sandeep did make some calls on the family number where he would describe himself as ‘Dilli Ka Don’. He used abusive language against my daughter-in-law as well,” claims the father. “When we found out that it was Sandeep’s number, I complained to his father around March. He admitted that it was his number and promised to take action,” he says.

Aggression and anger

At the homes of the accused, there is an atmosphere of despondency and aggression. The family members use expletives to refer to the victim’s family and refer to the alleged “affair” between Sandeep and the victim.

“The truth will prevail. The CBI might have found our sons guilty, but the case is yet to be fought in the court,” says Rakesh, father of Ramu. He claims the CBI didn’t take into account the presence of his son at the local dairy at the time of the incident because of lack of CCTV footage.

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Atar Singh, the father of another accused, Ravi, questions the dying declaration of the victim. “In her first statement, at the Chandpa police station, she named only Sandeep. Her mother also blamed Sandeep. The girl named the other three at the behest of the daughter of the local Member of Parliament who belongs to their community,” he alleges. “We will prove in court that the MP’s daughter named the other three in her social media post before the statement of the girl was recorded in the Aligarh hospital,” adds Mr. Rakesh.

The families of the accused are holding off on efforts from caste leaders who have held panchayats in their support. On Wednesday, when Nitesh Chauhan, president of the Hathras unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangathan visited the village in solidarity and demanded a narco test of the victim’s brothers as well, Mr. Rakesh told him they were not raising any such demand.

Locals say the support for the families of the accused diminished after the CBI chargesheet but caste-based groups are still trying to fan emotions. On Thursday, five members of Karni Sena Bharat were arrested by the Hathras police as they were planning to hold a panchayat in support of the accused. On Friday, their head was allowed to meet the families.

Also read | CBI removes Hathras gang rape case FIR from website

Official apathy

Reflecting on the events of the night of September 30 when the victim’s body was allegedly cremated without the participation of father and brothers, a local intelligence unit official says they had inputs that certain groups were planning to jam the Moradabad-Agra highway by putting the body on the road.

“It could have led to caste clash in the village. It was up to the administration on how to respond to the inputs. Every ailment demands a different dose. Perhaps, those in charge used a higher dose than required,” he says in grim humour. “I guess had more force been called in and due process of cremation was followed, mine and your (media) visits to the village would have been avoided,” he says.

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Seema Kushwaha, the lawyer for the victim, says she hasn’t received a complete copy of the chargesheet yet but the sections that have been invoked suggest that it is a step towards justice to the victim. She admits the trial would be tough but points out that rape laws have changed after the Nirbhaya case.

“We will demand shifting the case out of Uttar Pradesh when the case will come up for hearing on January 4 in the Hathras court and will continue to question the role of district magistrate in the Allahabad High Court,” Ms Kushwaha said.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 4:00:37 AM |

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