(Trigger Warning: The following article contains descriptions of sexual assault, rape and murder. Reader discretion is advised. (This was first published on The Quint on 5 August. It has been republished after the filing of Delhi Police charge sheet, which stated that the main accused sexually assaulted the victim in the past as well.)
Every morning, Sarala (name changed) and her nine-year-old daughter Gudiya (name changed) went to the Old Nangal crematorium, right opposite their house, to help clean the place.
Sarala and her husband, ragpickers outside Peer Baba Mandir, would also help Radhey Shyam, the crematorium's priest, with daily errands. They had been doing that for almost half a decade since Gudiya was barely five years old.
On 1 August, the priest, along with a painter, a crematorium worker, and an unemployed man, were arrested for allegedly raping, murdering, and forcibly cremating Gudiya.
Shyam, along with the other accused – Kuldeep Kumar (63), Laxmi Narain (48), and Mohd Salim (49) – were arrested by the Delhi Police on the day of the incident.
Speaking to The Quint, Gudiya's mother said that her daughter had gone to get water from the crematorium when the four accused allegedly raped and murdered her.
"When she was almost lifeless, they set her on fire without my consent. I did not know what to do. The priest told me she was electrocuted and that he would cremate her for free. He said that if I went to police they would steal her body parts. I am left with nothing now," she said, adding that she wanted all accused, especially the priest, to be hanged to death.
'Priest Would Play With Her': Neighbour
A man in his late 50s, Radhey Shyam, a resident of Sagarpur, was appointed a priest in the crematorium about 20-odd years ago. He is the main accused in the Gudiya rape and murder case.
According to locals, Shyam is a married man with two grown-up children.
"Whenever Gudiya's parents had to go somewhere for work, I would take care of her. I would spend almost 24 hours with her as I reside near Peer Baba temple as well. He would play with her when she was younger. He used to give her chocolates when Gudiya's mother went to clean the crematorium."Chandni, Neigjbour
"Some villagers are shocked that a priest has committed the crime. But let me tell you. Every evening, his friends gather and they drink and create a ruckus. Gudiya's mother used to send her to the crematorium so that she could bring cold water or sit in the cooler for sometime," Chandni told The Quint.
'My Son is Innocent, Will Shoot Him If He's a Criminal': Laxmi Narain's Family
A house painter by profession, 48-year-old Laxmi Narain is a resident of Old Nangal village. He lives in a joint family, along with his wife and two children, his parents, and his brothers' families.
Narain's father Ramchandar claims that his eldest son is innocent and that he is a 'victim of politicisation' in the village.
Ramchandar, a retired subedar in the Army, speaking to The Quint, said:
"My son is innocent. If he has committed a crime, I will be the first person to shoot him. But he did not. You can ask the neighbours about his character. He was a painter who used to work from 8 am to 6 pm every day. He would then come and spend time with his family."Ramchandar
When asked what Narain was doing at the crime spot, his wife (who did not want to be named) said that he had "gone to get a haircut nearby, and stopped at the crematorium, hearing a ruckus."
"When he came home that evening, he wanted to get a haircut. He then went to the crematorium after hearing some noise from there. But when a ruckus broke out, he was caught in the middle of it and was picked (by the police). He is innocent. We did not know the family."Laxmi Narain's Wife
Narain has two children – a girl who has just started her Class 12 and a boy who is studying in Class 6.
"While the neighbours are supportive, some people are saying that they will set him on fire if he comes back. But he is innocent. So, I know he will come back," she said, adding that the family was living in the village since 1952.
'Didn't Know He Was Muslim': Nangal Locals
Forty-nine-year-old Mohd Salim, a crematorium worker, is another accused in the case. The locals allege that they knew him as the priest's aide – and had no idea about his religious identity.
"That his name is Mohd Salim is surprising. He used to pile wood in the crematorium. We did not know his religion," said Kishore, a resident of Old Nangal, who has been living in the area with his family for almost two decades.
"It does not matter whether he is Hindu or Muslim. He was doing his work but for the crime he has done, he should be hanged. Some are saying he lives near Sadar Bazaar. He is not from the village. So, we don't know anything about him," said Jitender, another resident.
The Quint has reached out to Delhi Police for more details on the accused. This article will be updated when there is more information.
'A Drunkard, Was Chased Out of Family'
The oldest accused in the case – Kuldeep Kumar – is an unemployed man, who would live in and out of the crematorium.
Kumar's extended family, who were residents of the village once, cut all ties with him about two decades ago, after his wife passed away.
He has two children, one of whom is a lawyer.
"He does not have any work. He roams around and stays in the crematorium. He eats free food wherever it is available. He is a drunkard – who only wants to drink," Jitender added.
Another local, who knew the family, said that they no longer live in the village.
"They moved out a few years ago. Kuldeep has a brother. But I don't think he was in touch with anyone from the family."
Did Accused Know Victim's Family?
While the locals earlier told The Quint that Gudiya was acquainted with all four accused, some others on 5 August, said that she was acquainted only with the priest. The rest, they said, were his friends.
Police sources said that the accused priest knew the girl's family and would often offer them food.
After the accused informed the family of the girl's death, they reportedly tried to convince them to cremate her without informing the police, claiming that if the police would file a case, the doctors would steal the girl's organs.
The mother, however, claims that the girl might have been raped before she was killed by the accused.
An FIR was registered under IPC sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 201 (destruction of evidence), 342 (wrongful restraint) and 34 (common intention), as well as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, SC/ST Act, and IPC sections 302 (punishment for murder), 376 (punishment for rape), and 506 at the Delhi Cantonment police station.
The Delhi Police on Wednesday, 4 August, had said that the cause of death has not been ascertained yet, as most of the girl's body was burnt during the cremation. All four accused will undergo a polygraph test, sources told The Quint.