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Where the Girls Went, Where the Boys Came From

Posted by:  , July 1, 2015

In the huge furore that followed the Badaun gang rapes and murders in May 2014, cops were suspended and ‘upper’-caste Yadav suspects arrested, some of whom confessed to the crime. In June 2014, reporter Priyanka Dubey visited the victims’ village, and travelled further afield to the riverine Yadav villages where the arrested suspects grew up, and found that the victims’ parents were increasingly frightened of what the authorities would do to shift the blame. In November, her suspicions that the authorities were attempting a cover-up were proven: contrary to initial forensic evidence, the CBI announced that girls hadn’t been raped or murdered; they had killed themselves. In March 2015, the CBI filed an objection to the protest appeal by the girls’ families, and last month, the CBI completed their arguments before a court. Here’s a look back at Dubey’s 2014 story which found that the authorities’ imagination was actually a perfect match with the local attitude that this is just what happens to ‘out of control’ lower caste girls who are ‘asking for it’.

The mothers of the two girls who were gang-raped and murdered in Badaun district in May 2014. Photo by Priyanka Dubey.

By Priyanka Dubey

If the Ganga hadn’t submerged the village of Badam Nagla four years ago, would Kavita* and Ragini still be alive today? That is as pointless as asking would Kavita and Ragini be alive today if they had not needed to leave their house at night to pee.

Was it just chance that the girls, barely in their teens, caught the eye of a group of violent, entitled men the night of May 27? Perhaps. Or were they targets picked in the deliberate way of predatory men? Perhaps – it’s difficult to tell. Their stories are becoming increasingly blurred by the name of the district – Badaun – and everything it has now come to stand for.

* * *

Every year the Ganga and its tributaries swallow a few villages in Badaun and adjoining districts. More villages slowly vanish under huge deposits of silt. Four years ago, after a powerful flood, Badam Nagla village in Farrukhabad district was almost entirely submerged. Residents of this small village mostly migrated to nearby villages like Manthpura, Salik ka Nagla, Pattharrani.

Veerpal Yadav, his wife and three sons, were among the handful of families that migrated to Katra Sadatganj from Badam Nagla. His eldest son Avadesh got married last year and has a child. Urvesh, his second son, studied up to high school. Residents of Katra Sadatganj say that his youngest, 24-year-old Pappu Yadav, was the most notorious of the three brothers. “He used to roam about, do nothing and harass girls,” says 60-year-old Durgpal Shakya, a resident of Katra village. All three Yadav brothers are now arrested for raping and murdering two young girls in Katra Sadatganj, the village that for a month has been known to most Indian newspaper readers and TV viewers as ‘Badaun, where the two girls were hanged from a tree’.

All of these villages are situated on the banks of the Ganga. Two small rivers known as Ramganga and Bahugul flow in this region across the adjacent borders of Badaun, Farrukhabad and Shahjahanpur districts. The villages here in the Katri belt (Katri patti ke gawn) are largely dominated by people from the Yadav caste and are infamous for crime. The Yadav families grow watermelon on the sandy banks of the Ganga and grow cash crops like tobacco and mint on cultivable land.

It’s 30km from Katra Sadatganj to Manthpura, the village closest to the now-vanished Badam Nagla village. It is where most of Pappu Yadav’s clan and former neighbors moved to.

As I get closer to Manthpura, sightings of men on motorbikes with only a Samajwadi Party flag printed where their number plates should be, driving with two rifles slung on their shoulders, becomes commonplace. The landscape is rough and dotted with ravines, covered in a tall, thick grass locally known as ‘patel’. Government primary school buildings stand empty and ruined, yards covered in grass and stagnant water.

The day before, Shahjahanpur-based journalist Vivek Senger, who has been covering crime in the Katribelt villages for a decade, had told me that the whole region had no proper roads, no education, no electricity and no employment opportunities. “The Katri belt has seen the rise and fall of dacoit gangs like the Kallu Yadav gang and the Najju Gang over the years. Most of these gangs developed against the oppression and atrocities of Uttar Pradesh police on common people. Slowly, these Robin Hood-style dacoit gangs got into the business of kidnapping and then, by the end of the 1990s, they turned into small-time semi-urban gangsters.”

When I finally reach Manthpura, alert and curious residents gather around. Many adolescent boys hang about. Children are playing in the lanes. Manthpura is an all-Yadav village and they’ve all heard of what has happened in Katra Sadatganj. In this watchful atmosphere, I am too nervous to say that I am a reporter, so I introduce myself as a researcher working on the impact of sand silting on riverside villages in the country.

Fifty-year-old Omkar Yadav points his finger towards the river and says, “That was where Badam Nagla village was situated once. Now the village has vanished in the river. Many families of Badam Nagla now live in Manthpura also.” I see a green marshy patch of land now half-submerged in the water. That was where Pappu and his brothers grew up.

After half an hour of hanging about making small talk, along the Ganga river canal, I meet 60-year-old Munni Devi, a former resident of Badam Nagla. When I mention Veerpal Yadav’s family and his sons, she says, “They left the village long ago. But the boys are innocent, I tell you. What would you do if a girl offers you herself? It is the girl’s fault.” At this point she notices her own teenaged granddaughter hanging about listening to the conversation. She asks her sternly to go home but the girl only moves out of her line of vision and stays.

Munni Devi continues, “Men are obviously going to use you if you go and fall on their chests. These lower caste people do not keep a check on their girls. That girl was also going around with Pappu. It’s stupid to first not keep your girls in your control and then to complain that Yadav men raped them. Men are not at fault. These lower-caste girls are all like this only.”  The men gathered in a crowd around Munni Devi nod their heads in agreement. Omkar says, “Girls should behave themselves or be ready to face the consequences.” This is presumably what Pappu Yadav and other boys grew up hearing before they moved to Katra Sadatganj.

I think of what crime reporter Vivek Senger told me the previous day, “Crimes against women have crossed all records in this region. While Yadav women are comparatively safe, the rape and murder of lower-caste women is an everyday thing. There’s also a pattern of burning women’s face with acid after killing them. We cover a lot of cases involving unidentifiable corpses of women who have been raped, killed and burnt. The hanging of the two girls from the mango tree? That is just the newest variation.”

* * *

Nineteen-year-old Phoolan Devi and her 14-year-old brother Pintoo were close to their younger cousins Kavitaand Ragini. Pintoo is still in school but his older sister was married last year. Phoolan had just arrived at her parents’ home in Badaun for a visit last month when she heard the news that was to rock the whole country. That her cousins had been found dead: hanged from a mango tree.

Small, thin Phoolan, in a pink printed sari, stares at the mud floor of her parents’ home while thinking of the two girls. Her brother is dressed in a grey shirt and dark pants. Less composed, he scrubs at the floor to relieve his feelings.

Phoolan says, “They were my sisters. We all grew up together. We all played, cooked food and embroidered clothes together. Both of them were very good and embroidered new designs on clothes.” Pintoo looks at his sister and murmurs, “They used to cook very nice food. They would make me dal, roti and nice vegetables. We use to play together. They’d make flowers on handkerchiefs and would show them to me. They were very quick in capturing designs. They made designs on their own dupattas also. You only had to show a design once to Kavita and she’d make it in a few hours. Ragini liked to dress up too. I will always miss most the rakhis that they used to tie on my hand every year.”

Kavita and Ragini had both gone to the same school for a while, the only private school in the village. When Kavita passed Class 8, her parents started looking for a groom and told her that she could resume schooling after marriage. Ragini was in Class 6.

Pintoo’s round child’s face shuts down as he says, “I cannot forget them hanging from the tree. I try not to but I see them hanging again and again.” This is difficult enough to hear from him, but then his older sister says, “When I was not married, we use to go to relieve ourselves together (Shauch ke liyebhi saath jate the).”

The dangers that women in rural India face when going to urinate or defecate in the fields have been widely debated in the last month. But the dangers they face are not in the dim light of dawn or in the darkness. And it is some of that fear that weighs down Phoolan’s voice.

Their uncle Jai Singh says, “Abduction and rapes of lower-caste girls by Yadavs is very common in this region. Many abductions and rapes have happened in this village. Badaun is a historical bastion of Yadavs. Former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s nephew Dharmendra Yadav is the MP from Badaun, and the state government is of the Yadavs. What is a lower-caste Maurya going to achieve by daring to file a complaint against the Yadavs? We are being killed now and will be killed at a much faster pace if we start complaining against the Yadavs. I know many families who have suffered similarly but they never reported the matter as the girls were abandoned after a few hours or a night.”

* * *

Green grass has already started growing on the emergency helipad specially made for the quick descent and ascent of high-profile politicians into Katra Sadatganj in Badaun district.

A fortnight after the gang-rape and murder of the two young girls, a heavy silence envelopes the Maurya hamlet of Katra Sadatganj village. The camps of media crews have vanished. Gloomy residents can easily be spotted sitting slumped under mango trees. Children with skin so dry from the heat that deep cracks have appeared wander around a few newly constructed toilets built in the last one year. By now, nobody in the village is even curious about city people coming in with their vehicles and cameras. When they point you to the residence of the two murdered cousins, they are still polite. And the appearance of a jawan, one among the additional forces posted in the village, no longer makes people sit up.

No one is sitting up at the police outpost I pass by. It is 46 degrees Celsius this late morning. A small clump of mango trees shade this little building at the southernmost tip of Badaun district, around 45km from the district headquarters. This morning, there are three cots under the trees. Washed shirts, pants and men’s undergarments are drying on ropes tied between branches. Shoes, rucksacks, water bottles and used utensils lie on the ground. Two men in track pants and t-shirts are asleep on these cots.

This is the local police outpost of Katra Sadatganj in the Usehat police station area of Badaun district. Chowki in-charge Vijendra Sharma has recently been transferred here. He is the only man in police uniform in the vicinity, and is sprawled on two plastic chairs. When I enter, he sits up and picks up, for company, a newspaper lying on one of the cots. He sits with dignity amidst the flies buzzing over the leftovers in the plates, quiet and a bit reluctant to speak. “I just came here, I was recently transferred. I know nothing about anything related to this outpost.” This is his comprehensive and justifiable snub to my curiosity.

Nothing seems to have changed in this police outpost since May 27, 2014, when Kavita and Ragini were hanged from a mango tree. This somnolent afternoon, you’d never guess that the Katra Sadatganj police outpost is only 300m away from the children’s homes. That the entire five-member staff of the outpost, who were present on the night of crime, has been suspended and two constables arrested for ‘criminal conspiracy’. That ‘Badaun’ has in a month’s time become shorthand for a certain kind of brutal violence against women and the very particularly Indian aftermath in which justice seems a distant, ridiculous dream.

To reach the house of Sohanlal, the father of one of the murdered girls, I had walked through the temporary camps of the special rapid response teams of the Uttar Pradesh provincial armed constabulary (UP-PAC). The CBI has been expected in the village all day.

The girls’ fathers, 35-year-old Sohanlal and 30-year-old Jeevanlal, are brothers. They belong to the Maurya caste, also known as ‘Shakya’ in the region. Mauryas are categorized as an Extremely Backward Class (EBC). Around here, they are mostly vegetable farmers. They are not Dalits, regardless of what all the early reports said and regardless of how neatly that fits a certain narrative, as academic Sruthi Herbert points out in her essay.

Fourteen-year-old Kavita was Jeevanlal and Suneeta’s only child. Suneeta had been mother to her ever since Kavita’s mother died when she was three years old. Twelve-year old Ragini was the daughter of Shridevi and Sohanlal. Today, around 30 relatives are sitting in the mud courtyard of Sohanlal’s house, braving the scorching heat. It isn’t only the heat and the mourning of their terrible loss that is making this clan silent. The family members are also oppressed by fear. In the last 48 hours there’s been a palpable shift in the family’s concerns. At first, it seemed like their murdered daughters would get no justice at all. Then it seemed like under the glare of the media, there was a chance that the accused would stand trial. But in the last two days it’s been clear to them that there is a steady poisoning of the well, to make it seem that they are the ones who killed their daughters. No, your daughters were not little girls abducted by large, violent men who killed them. No, you killed your daughters for cavorting with men. This is the change of tune that the families are hearing.

* * *

On June 7, Uttar Pradesh Director-General of Police Anand Lal Banerjee said at a press conference that the rape of one of the two girls was not yet confirmed. This was surprising. And contrary to the postmortem report.

The postmortem of both children had been conducted in Badaun district headquarters on the night of May 28 by a team of three government doctors. Dr Rajeev Gupta headed the panel of three doctors, which also included Dr Pushpa Pant Tripathi and Dr Awadhesh Kumar. The postmortem reports of both girls clearly show and confirm that the girls were violently raped. Contrary to the ages of 12 and 14 mentioned by victims’ parents, the postmortem reports record the victims’ ages as 14 and 16. The younger child’s body was the first to be examined.  After a 50-minute-long (7.05pm to 7.55pm) video recorded examination, the panel commented, “On perineal examination, bleeding in the form of clotted blood is seen in and around vaginal orifice. Hematoma present over hymen and abrasions present around hymen (findings suggestive of rape).” Later, the video recording of the older child’s postmortem was conducted in 40 minutes (from 8.35pm to 9.15 pm). The doctors commented, “Hymen is bluish in color. Vaginal tear is present in 5‘o’clock position. Vaginal discharge is present.” Vaginal tears and abrasions around the hymen are all indicative of forced entry. The doctors’ note in both postmortem reports says, “Perineal findings are suggestive of rape.”

The May 28 postmortem reports also mention ‘asphyxia’ as the girls’ immediate cause of death. Asphyxia is the medical term used to explain the ‘acute absence of oxygen which leads to suffocation and death in extreme cases’. The reports also mention that the tongues of the girls were protruded and eyes congested. And that the girls were alive when they were hanged on the mango tree, as asphyxia was caused due to ‘ante-mortem’ hanging.

After international outrage broke out over the Badaun double murder case, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, sounding distinctly peevish, started blaming the media for not studying rape statistics and for blowing the Badaun double murder out of proportion. Other regressive remarks poured in from all points of the Indian political spectrum. While Maharashtra’s Home Minister RR Patil was quoted saying, “Even if we provide one policeman per house, we can’t stop crime against women,” Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister Babulal Gaur felt that rape was a social crime between man and woman. “It is sometimes right, sometimes wrong,” he said.

Adding fuel to the honor killing rumors, Banerjee had said, “Of the two victims, one was a lone child. Her father has three brothers who have limited resources. In case she is not alive, then it can benefit others. It (property) can be one of the motives. I am not saying that this is the motive.”

The slander-mongering feels very familiar. I’ve reported extensively on different cases of rape in Haryana. As in Uttar Pradesh, lower-caste communities face fierce, relentless caste-based oppression in Haryana. And when it comes to rape, Haryana has a habit of declaring it consensual. At all the locations in Haryana I went to, rumors always swirled thickly that the victim had been having an affair with the accused. In some cases while I interviewed the victim inside, local journalists, villagers and relatives would gather outside. The moment I stepped out I’d get multiple people explaining earnestly how the girl had a ‘loose character’ and how the rape was ‘actually consensual’.

In most cases, local policemen would only try to cement the ‘consensus’ theory which sometimes forced the victim to withdraw her statement, took away even her moral assertion that she had been the victim of a crime and left her with no hope at all. Some of that was happening in Badaun too. The media has begun reporting how the girls wanted to go to a mela that night, had borrowed money to go to a mela, how one of them used to meet Pappu Yadav regularly. No one I spoke to across the village knew anything about a mela though.

On my way to Badaun, in the nearest big town of Bareilly, reporters talked darkly of policemen getting orders from above to make the case go away. And with the superimposition of the motives for which middle-class, landed Indian families regularly kill each other – shame and property – on the families of the Maurya girls, the road to making the case go away had been laid. By the time I reached Badaun, the honor killing theory had well and truly muddied the waters.

* * *

Sohanlal’s house consists of two rooms, a small mud hutment and a mud courtyard. All day the two brothers have spoken to several non-profit research organizations and advocacy representatives for many hours. They look exhausted. After bidding goodbye to the last legal rights activist, Sohanlal cuddles his orange polythene bag to catch a small nap in the mud courtyard while Jeevanlal stares at the roof over his head. Their elder brother Ram Babu tells me that Sohanlal has kept multiple photocopies of the documents related to the rape and hanging of his daughters in that orange polythene bag. “Also, he has kept many copies of all photographs which show his daughters hanging from the mango tree in that orange bag. He shows the documents and pictures to everyone who comes to meet him. He is so determined to get justice for his daughters that he never leaves this polythene, not even while sleeping.”

While Sohanlal sleeps, I ask Jeevan about the mothers of the murdered girls. He directs me silently towards two women sitting on the other side of the courtyard. They are so still I worry for a bit whether they’ve fainted in the heat and no one’s noticed. The two young women in bright blue saris are mourning with other female relatives of the extended family. When I talk about her daughter, Ragini’s mother Shridevi keeps staring the mud floor. After a few minutes of silence she says without looking at me, “They were very nice children. My daughters were very good girls. They would help me in household chores, study, cook with me and make embroidery designs on clothes. They ate whatever we gave them, never bothered us like other children do. They were very helpful and obedient children. I am unable to understand why anyone would kill them so brutally?”

Kavita’s mother Suneeta begins sobbing. She says, “They cooked dinner and went out to relieve themselves (shauch jane ke liye nikleen) like they did every day. When they did not return, men started searching for them all over and we started shouting and wailing in our homes. By morning we were told that our daughters are hanging on the mango trees of Ramnath Chaudhry’s orchard. We never imagined that somebody could kill our children so cruelly.”

As Suneeta talks to me, Shridevi suddenly starts sobbing inconsolably. She cries and repeats the first name of her daughter aloud with each wail. Other women relatives sitting with the mothers try to comfort them, but many among them also start sobbing. Shridevi wipes her tears with her sari and says, “You know, I gave birth to this girl twelve years ago, I nurtured her and brought her up with so many difficulties. And that morning, I saw her swinging from that mango tree in Chaudhry’s garden. You know, I sat down under the mango tree looking at my own daughter’s swinging body. I sat there for 14 hours. I kept on looking at her all the time. I remember her feet. The bodies started smelling under the sun. In those 14 hours, all I wanted was to bring her down close to my chest.  But they said that we should not bring the bodies down if we want justice for our daughters. And so I kept on looking at her feet. When the police brought her body down after 14 hours, I ran to hold her in my arms, but they removed me aside, wrapped her in a cloth and took her away immediately. I couldn’t hold her for the last time. I still see her feet. Her body keeps on swinging in front of my eyes all the time.”

It’s late evening and slanting orange rays of the setting sun are falling on Sohanlal’s long face. His brother Jeevanlal is still silent and still staring at the roof above his head. Sohanlal is now awake. His striped cream shirt and grey trousers are crushed. He opens his orange polythene bag and talks about how hopeful he is after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the case from the Uttar Pradesh Police. Then suddenly he stops and asks, “Are you from the CBI?” I take a few minutes to get over my surprise. I re-introduce myself. I ask him what made him think that I may be from the CBI. He falls silent and looks at the people staring around him. His sense of paranoia is palpable. I try to reassure him.

After half an hour, Sohanlal slowly starts talking again. He starts the conversation by talking about the new fear in their lives. “The Yadavs have raped and killed my daughters and now they are trying to frame us. The Yadavs are also going around in the village saying things like ‘CBI comes in any form and they put the parents also in jail’ and ‘Nobody can do anything to Yadavs under the Samajwadi Party government.’ They are trying to break us by making us scared. And now so many NGO people keep coming in and instructing us on what to say and how to say it to the CBI. I believe that the CBI will help us. Only they will ensure that my daughters get justice. But I am scared of the Yadavs. And the state government is of the Yadavs so it is always with them only. I am scared because the state government does not consider us as their (praja) citizens. Because we are lower-caste Mauryas.”

Ram Babu joins us. Jeevanlal who has looked lost all afternoon also follows. But he still does not speak. Ram Babu says needlessly, as if he owes me an explanation, that the death of his only child has taken its toll on Jeevan. “And they had to speak so much after their deaths. Hordes of media crew, politicians and activists kept coming in everyday. He repeated the story of the death of his daughters a number of times. And then suddenly, he fell silent. Now he keeps on staring at people and walls around him.”

When I ask the brothers about the response of the Uttar Pradesh police from the first hours of the crime, Sohanlal starts recalling the sequence of events of that night.

The Night the Children Died

The evening of May 27 was a regular summer evening in Katra Sadatganj. With the fall of dusk, men came back from work. Kavita had helped cook dinner. The younger children of the village were eating dinner when Kavita and Ragini went to the fields to relieve themselves.

Sohanlal says, “They went out to nearby fields to relieve themselves. Since it was routine, nobody in the family bothered. At first, we thought that they must be standing in the village and talking to other women. We were beginning to get worried when Babu Ram came.”

Sohanlal’s cousin Babu Ram is the sole eyewitness to the crime. When I met him, the 25-year-old farmer gave a full account of what he saw on the night of crime. He said, “I had gone to check the water in my fields between 8.30pm and 9pm on the night of May 27. There, I heard the screams of the girls. When I flashed my torch, I saw Pappu Yadav dragging the girls along with four other men. I could not see the faces of other four because the torchlight fell only on Pappu’s face. I ran to intervene to protect the girls but Pappu put a tamancha (country-made revolver) to my head. I was terrified and ran away to inform my cousins about the abduction of their daughters.”

Sohanlal says that as soon as Babu Ram informed them about the abduction of their missing daughters, the family started their search. Propriety governed this search too.

Sohanlal says, “It was the matter of our girls, so initially we hesitated to spread the word and looked for them ourselves. But when we could not find them by 11, we called all our relatives and all of us started looking for the girls.”

Then around 11.30pm the brothers went to the Katra Sadatganj police chowki with 15-20 men from their extended family and community. “But all the policemen were sleeping. It was very difficult to wake them up. After some time we managed to wake up Darogaji (outpost in-charge) Ramvilas Yadav. But the other four constables were not ready to get up. They first asked us our caste. When we told them that we are Mauryas, they slapped one of us. They verbally abused us and asked how ‘we’ could dare to come to police station to file a complaint. They said that our girls had run away and they’d come back themselves in two hours. They refused to help us.”

Sohanlal says, “If our daughters had returned alive, we would never have gone to the police. But that night, we couldn’t find them.” So the Maurya men refused to budge. “But after some time, the Darogajilistened to us. We told him that our daughters had gone missing and pleaded for help. He listened and then looked for his uniform and put it on. But the four sipahis (constables) still didn’t move. They took a lot of time to look for and then put on their uniforms. The Darogaji instructed sipahi Chatrapal Singh and Sarvesh Yadav to come out and look into the matter, but they were not listening to him. But we kept pleading and after some time the Darogaji came out with them and they decided to go to Pappu Yadav’s house.

“Then we went with the police to Pappu Yadav’s house around midnight. But we found him at a neighbor’s house near his home. When the Darogaji caught hold of Pappu, Constable Sarvesh Yadav and Chatrapal Singh started pleading with him right there in front of all of us to leave Pappu. They swore that Pappu was innocent and that they could vouch for him.”

“I begged the Darogaji to interrogate Pappu and told him that he had abducted my daughters. After that, the Darogaji brought Pappu to the police outpost. After two slaps, Pappu confessed in front of the whole police station and all our relatives that he had abducted our daughters. Everybody heard this.”

And here is the part that ended with all the policemen being arrested. After Pappu Yadav confessed, Sohanlal says, “Constable Sarvesh Yadav took Pappu aside and told him that if he went to jail as a rapist and thug, everybody’d make fun of him. If he went to jail after committing murder, then he’d earn a lot of respect in every jail.”

In front of everyone, I ask? Sohanlal confirms, “Constable Sarvesh Yadav openly encouraged Pappu Yadav to kill my daughters in front of everyone at the police outpost. At least twenty people saw him saying this to Pappu.”

After this, Constable Sarvesh Yadav told Pappu to say that the girls were with the eyewitness Babu Ram as the Darogajilooked over standing quietly.

Sohanlal continues, “It was clear now that the police were going to protect Pappu Yadav and harass us. So we decided to hire a jeep and travel to Badaun to meet higher officials.”

By the time the panicked families got organized, it was already 5am. Sohanlal says, “Constable Sarvesh Yadav saw us heading to Badaun headquarters in the jeep. He shouted out that our girls may be hanging on a mango tree somewhere in the village.” Unfortunately, the men thought it was more of the same inhumanity he had displayed all night. “We kept going. But we’d gone barely 4km away from the village when we got the news that our girls had actually been found hanging on a mango tree in the village. We ran towards Ramnath Chaudhary’s orchard. I saw their swinging bodies and I fainted.”

The End. And the Beginning.

It isn’t clear yet how the girls were killed or exactly who killed them. That morning as the angry Maurya families gathered around the mango tree protesting against the police, the police tried to bring the bodies down. The girls’ uncle Jai Singh says, “The police kept on pressing us to bring the bodies down. But they had not arrested Pappu Yadav nor had they registered our complaint. On the contrary, a huge police force and water tankers were deployed in front of Pappu Yadav’s house so that no one could harm him or his family. So we didn’t let them cut the bodies down. The police started acting after the media came in. A local photographer clicked pictures of the hanging girls that brought in immediate national media attention to the case. Then police noted the first entry in their station diary [not the FIR] on May 28 at 4.30pm. We had already been sitting under the dead bodies of our daughters for nearly 12 hours.

The terrifying images of the two girls hanging from the mango tree sent shock waves across the world with its echoes of the lynchings of blacks in the American South. Everyone from Congress scion Rahul Gandhi to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo and former chief minister Mayawati paid quick visits to Sohanlal’s home. Soon after, Lok Janshakti party leader Ramvilas Paswan also spent time in KatraSadatganj with his son Chirag Paswan. Around a week later, when the matter started taking a political turn, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav began taking action, with pique and irritation that he did not try to hide.

The entire five-member staff of the Katra Sadatganj police outpost was suspended two days after the death of the girls. An FIR was registered against Pappu Yadav and his brothers Avadesh Yadav and Urvesh Yadav. All three were arrested for gang-raping and murdering two minor girls along with two other unidentified accused.

The three brothers and policemen Sarvesh Yadav and Chatrapal Singh were arrested and the case was moved to a fast-track court. Soon after their arrest, during interrogation, two of the accused reportedly confessed to the crime in front of the UP Police. But facing global criticism for the pathetic situation of law and order in Uttar Pradesh and the blunders of the UP police in the Badaun double murder, the state’s chief minister soon agreed to a CBI investigation into the matter.

As Sohanlal waits for the CBI to crack the case and identify the murderers of his daughter and niece, he goes over his painful memories of dealing with the police. “My daughters could have been saved if the police had taken my complaint seriously and acted on time. But they kept on wasting the most crucial hours that night in trivial arguments and as a result, I found the hanged bodies of my daughters, swinging in the air. They wanted to blame us for the killings. Had the media not shown the truth to the world, they would have easily framed us right then,” he adds.

The family alleges that the biased attitude of police continued even when the Special Investigation Team (SIT) began their investigation on June 6. Babu Ram, the witness, says, “Their caste bias continued in all further levels of investigations. First at Kotwali (the police station at Usait) they tried to change our testimonies themselves in the written records. One of our boys who knew how to read found that the answers written by police were very different from what we were saying. The UP Police was intentionally changing our answers to implicate us and protect the accused. Then they started throwing weird questions at us, intended to confuse and break us. We could feel in their conversations that they want to save the accused because they are Yadavs. They were also angry with us for ‘creating a hue and cry’ in front of the media. We are very scared of the Uttar Pradesh Police. So later we collectively decided that we would not talk to the SIT team when they took over the case on June 6. And we did not speak to them. We are poor illiterate people and they are adamant about framing us. So we decided that we will only speak to the CBI.”

Back to Badaun. Retired Inspector-General of Police (Uttar Pradesh) SR Darapuri says that he feels disgusted by the shameful show put up by the UP Police in the Badaun double murder. Over the phone, he tells me, “The response of the Uttar Pradesh Police to the Badaun rape and double murder case has been highly irresponsible and evasive. The killing probably happened after the parents approached the local police outpost for help. But the outpost staff did not act on time and all major crucial evidence was lost due to their lethargy and criminal carelessness. Instead, they ridiculed the family and harassed them with casteist remarks.” He goes on to add, “Evading filing FIRs is a regular pattern in the Uttar Pradesh Police. And yes, there is a very strong casteist sentiment in the UP police.”

Another veteran Uttar Pradesh former top cop known for his massive police reforms initiative is the former Director-General of Police Prakash Singh. About the UP police’s response to the Badaun incident, he says, “UP cops have a conducive role in the horrible Badaun crime. Local police outpost officers worked hand-in-glove with the accused and connived with them to execute the brutal hangings. And the UP DGP’s statements on the matter are particularly disappointing. Clearly, floating honor killing theories and denying the rape of one girl are attempts to confuse the case and divert attention of people.”

* * *

As this story goes to press, there is talk of putting the parents of the dead children through polygraph tests. It remains to be seen whether they will escape the elaborate Chakravyuh a vengeful State can set up if it wishes to. My last conversation in Katra was after sunset outside Sohanlal’s house, where village residents were sitting quietly. Absentmindedly holding green mangoes in their hands, they talked about the dead girls. I was hoping to not have to hear the innuendo and slander that usually accompany cases like these. But 35-year-old Moolchand Shakya and 60-year-old Durgpal Shakya only said: “They were both very nice children.”

* Some names have been changed.

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