“This is all drama. This is all politics. No such incident has happened.”
Seventy-year-old Rakesh sits in the open courtyard of his blue-green brick-walled house in Hathras’ Bul Garhi village, frantically attending calls from journalists. His son, Ramkumar, has been arrested. And the ‘incident’ he is referring to is the alleged rape and assault of the 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras, that has sent shockwaves across the country.
Ramkumar, his brother Ravi, their nephew Sandeep and their neighbour Luvkush were named by the victim *Madhu to the police before succumbing to her injuries at Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital.
Incidentally, both the families, belonging to the dominant Thakur community, have had ‘caste disputes’ with the victim’s family in the past.
'Sandeep Was Home’: Brother Denies Allegations
The first name that was added to the FIR filed by Madhu’s brother on 14 September, the day she was allegedly raped and assaulted, was of 18-year-old Sandeep. Fleeting in and out of consciousness, Madhu had allegedly told her family that “Sandeep choked her.”
Across the only three Dalit houses in the village stand the two-storeyed brick-walled houses of the Thakurs. When we reached Sandeep’s house, his brother said that on 14 September morning both of them were at home digging a water channel in their courtyard.
‘Why Did The Girl Not Kill Anyone If She Was Violated?’: Ramkumar’s Father
The families of his uncles - Ramkumar and Ravi - who lived in the same premises, said the Dalit family was “adding names to the FIR under political pressure.” Ramkumar, Ravi and Luvkush’s names were added to the FIR between 20 and 21 September after the police recorded the victim’s statement. This is when the IPC section on rape was also added.
Ramkumar has two sons and works at the nearby Chand Pa milk plant. According to his father, Rakesh, he had left for work at 7 am that morning and came back home, as scheduled, around 11 am. “Initially the family had only named Sandeep, what changed in two days? They just got political backing.”
Alleging that the incident of assault did not take place as claimed, the father said, “The spot where the alleged incident happened is 100 m away from our house, beside the road. How come nobody heard or saw anything?”
Putting the onus of ‘saving oneself’ on the victim, the father said, “If someone is violating my body and I can see they have sickles in their hands why will I not use their sickle to kill them? I won’t even let the matter reach the courts or the police, will finish them myself if anyone attacked me. But neither the girl nor the mother, who was there in the field, did anything like that.”
‘My Son Has Two Kids, Why Would He Rape?’ : Ravi’s Mother
Ravi’s mother did not want to speak or hear anything about the case. She said she is a heart patient and if she further discusses the matter, she could fall seriously ill. But before leaving for her room, she noted, “My son has two small kids. Why would he do this to another girl?”
Nearly 15-20 years ago, Sandeep’s father and accused Ravi, who was then 13, had assaulted Madhu’s grandfather and had been arrested under SC/ST Act. The Thakur family had gone to the Valmiki family’s field to graze their buffalo when Madhu’s grandfather had asked them to take the cattle away since they were destroying the crops. Being rebuked by a Dalit did not bode well with the dominant Thakurs and Madhu’s grandfather was assaulted, leaving the two in jail.
However, families of Madhu and the accused said no other family feud has occurred since then. When asked what would be their reaction if they find out that their kids have indeed committed the crime they have been arrested for, both Ravi’s mother and Ramkumar’s father said, “If they have committed the crime, then they should be hanged but they haven’t. And the truth will eventually come out.”
‘My Son Went to Give Her Water, They Framed Him’: Luvkush’s Mother
When we reached 18-year-old Luvkush’s house, his mother sitting on a cot, broke out in sporadic wails. “My son was with me in the field that day. When I heard a woman crying and asking for help, I rushed and saw the girl lying in a pool of mud and blood. I asked my son to get water for them and they framed him. He is absolutely innocent.”
When asked about the assault, she said, “This girl must have had some illegitimate relationship and the mother and brother must have found out about that and killed her.”
What was she basing her allegations on? So far, there is no evidence to prove honour killing. For years in India, women have faced the trauma of victim-blaming. Like Luvkush’s mother, his neighbours also believed that “something must have been wrong with the girl and the family is framing the Thakur boys due to political pressure.”
Luvkush’s mother said that about two weeks ago, they had a feud with Madhu’s family over cattle grazing. “They are Dalits, they keep pigs and hens in their houses whose faeces block our irrigation channels. We had asked them to keep them within their house premises and they had argued back. But that dispute had got resolved.”
'Humare Sar pe Chadh Gaye Hai Yeh Log’: Caste Faultlines Laid Bare
As I was exiting from Ravi’s house, a comment by one of the family members laid bare the existing caste faultlines in the village. “Yeh log zyada sad pe chadh gaye hai humare.”
I turned and asked, “Kaun log? (Which people?)”
Pointing at Madhu’s house, the reply, “Yeh Valmiki log. (These Valimikis.)”
When I tried to question further on what she meant, others in the family intruded, “No no she did not mean it like that. There is no caste discrimination in our village. We invite them to our gatherings, even let them pray in our temples, offer them water. We don’t discriminate.”
When I asked why they needed to “allow” somebody in a temple or if they also visit the Dalit houses when invited, Ravi’s brother Sunder Pal said, “No no. How can we do that? They are below us. They work in our houses. We invite them, but how can we go to their house or drink their water?”
Madhu’s cousin brother and her neighbours in the village, dominated mostly by the Thakurs and the Pandits, also narrated how even now when they go to shops the owner will sprinkle water on the money, how they are made to sit on the floor every time there is a village gathering and how the cremation ground, where Madhu was put to rest by the policemen in the middle of the night without the family’s approval, also had a separate ground for Dalits.
Field, FIR and Forensics: A Timeline of Facts
On 14 September, *Madhu was found by her mother lying inside a small opening into the Bajra field, bleeding, naked and oozing blood from her mouth, as alleged by her family.
- She was first taken to the Chand Pa police station where the family claimed they were neglected and humiliated by the police, then to the Hathras hospital, then to a hospital in Aligarh and finally shifted to Delhi’s Safdurjang hospital where she breathed her last on 29 September.
- The final autopsy report, released by the Safdarjung hospital, has said that she was strangled and suffered cervical spinal injuries but has no mention of rape. Talking to The Quint, Madhu’s cousin brother said, “They are distorting the medical report. We will seek CBI enquiry if we don’t get justice.”
- On Thursday, 1 October, Uttar Pradesh Additional Director General of Police said that no sperm had been found in the samples provided and that it was clear that the matter was being twisted to cause caste-based tensions.
* The victim’s name has been changed to protect identity