(This story was first published on 8 September 2018. It is being reposted from The Quint's archives to commemorate six years to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots)
In the interest of 'societal harmony', upto 32 alleged rapists have been let off the hook in the aftermath of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.
The arrangement was made between two absolutely unrelated instances of rape. In the first case, five Muslim women were allegedly raped during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots by 22 Hindu men in Fugana village. In the second instance, in June 2014, ten Muslim men allegedly raped a Hindu woman in Dholera village. Both villages, at least 20 kilometres apart, are in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district.
It was after the Hindu woman was raped that an opportunity presented itself to get all the alleged rapists off the hook. A compromise was hatched by individuals linked to both incidents, from both communities. The Hindu rape survivor testified that she was not raped by her alleged rapists and the five Muslim rape survivors said the same. While the cases are on-going, due to these key statements from the rape survivors, they are bound to fail against the 32 alleged rapists.
Money was exchanged in both the arrangements. While the Hindu accused from Fugana village say they paid more than Rs 22 lakh to the Muslim rape survivors, the Muslims say they got much lesser. On the other hand, while the Muslim accused say they paid Rs 6 lakh to the Hindu rape survivor, the Hindu rape survivor denies any money was given. However, the Hindu rape survivor did change her testimony in court.
While there are contradictory versions on whether money changed hands, and how much money was paid out, both these ‘settlements’ are questionable. Mainly because neither the Hindu rape survivor, nor the 5 Muslim rape survivors had any role in arriving at these compromises.
The Quint travelled to Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts in UP, to meet each of these six rape survivors to investigate the following:
- Why would the survivors of two unrelated rape case make a compromise?
- How the compromise played out and how money ‘bought’ silence
- Did the women play a role in deciding the fate of their alleged rapists?
1. Two Unrelated Rape Cases? No, There’s a Link
At first glance there seemed to be no relation between the two cases, but then the link presented itself.
When we visited Dholera village to understand why a Hindu family would agree to a compromise and let the 10 Muslim accused rapists off, a local, on the condition of anonymity, gave this reporter a tip. He insisted Dholera’s local Khap leader, Neetu Singh, had orchestrated the arrangement as he had relatives who were amongst the accused in Fugana.
This reporter went to Fugana village and found this to be true.
The Quint verified the link in Fugana by talking to Sunil Singh also known as Sunil Sarpanch. His father was the former sarpanch of Fugana village, where the five Muslim rape cases were filed during the riots.
Sunil Singh’s nephews are amongst the 22 Hindu alleged rapists from the riots in Fugana village. And Neetu Singh is the brother-in-law of Sunil Singh’s niece. On Sunil Singh’s request, Neetu Singh used his position as local Khap leader to get Dholera’s Hindu rape survivor to testify that the ten Muslims were not amongst those who raped her. In exchange, the five Muslim rape survivors altered their statement against Sunil’s nephews.
Neetu Singh told The Quint, "To do some good by saving the lives of the 22 men, we had to sacrifice." The emotion in the other community was somewhat similar.
When The Quint asked the husband of one of the Muslim rape survivors why this generosity was shown, he said, "Samaaj mein aman banane ke liye aisa kiya hain humnein (To maintain peace in society we came to this compromise)."
2. Revealed: How Money ‘Bought’ Silence
While talking to The Quint about the rape cases filed by five Muslim women during the riots, Sunil Singh said, "These cases were all false, they were not girls but married women and old."
He went on to say, "All the 22 boys were innocent, these women chose boys who were studying. We wanted them to come out of jail as their entire life was ahead of them. Fearing a conviction we began talk of a compromise. This is when the Muslims raised the Dholera case where 10 Muslims were the rape accused."
First the statements were withdrawn for the Dholera case and then each of the five Fugana cases, Sunil Singh said.
The Quint confirmed this with the Hindu woman's younger brother, 45-year-old Sudhir, who said, "Yes we compromised for the benefit of society. My sister and her children were abandoned by her husband after she was raped. I did want the rapists to go to jail, and ensure they never did this to anyone again. This has been hard and you can say I’ve made a sacrifice."
Sudhir and his sister went to court and changed their testimonies. His sister ended up saying, "While the rape did happen, I’m not sure if the 10 Muslim men were the accused." Similarly Sunil Singh let out what each of the five Muslim women told him, "Humaara angoothe ke nishaan liye gaye kore kagaz pe, uske baad kisne kiska naam likha humein nahi pata. Main nahi jaanti in logon ko. (They took my thumb print on a blank sheet, after that whose name they wrote I don't know. I do not know these people.)" All the Muslim rape survivors or their families have confirmed to The Quint that they had indeed altered their statement to end the matter.
In both arrangements it is claimed that money was exchanged. Sunil Singh says, "The rate was Rs 1 lakh for each Hindu accused. Hence one Muslim lady got 6 lakh, another 3 lakh... the total amounting to Rs 22 lakh".
The Quint corroborated these claims with Muslim rape survivors. While two rape survivor’s families claim that they refused to accept the money, three others said they got money ranging between Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh.
Interestingly, the ‘deal brokers’ on behalf of the three Muslim rape survivors are the relatives of the two rape survivors who claim they did not accept any money. These two are Naseem, husband of one of the rape survivors, and Hazimaan Ali, father in law of another rape survivor who died in 2017 during childbirth. Both, however, insist, they exerted no influence.
The Quint went back to Muzaffarnagar and met Hazimaan to probe the legality of the compromise. By this time, this reporter and Hazimaan had developed a rapport, giving this reporter the freedom to say, “I know it is most likely that you got money as well, I just can't say that for you. While the other women have accepted it, I wonder why you haven’t.” Hazimaan responded with a laugh and finally conceded. “What you're thinking is correct,” he said as if complimenting this reporter. Adding, “The ten Muslims from Dholera village gave the Jaatni (Hindu woman) Rs 6 lakh. How would it be easy then, that we give them money but not take any?" Hazimaan laughed again. He got Rs 3 lakh as there were three alleged rapists involved in the case.
The Quint spoke in detail to three of the Muslim rape survivors.
One of them, now a 28-year-old, was allegedly raped by four Hindu men. She says she has lived in fear since then. Her husband, who is a labourer, is often away for 2-3 months at a stretch. "For five years I have feared that someone will come at night and rape me. Some days are fine, but most nights it’s hard to overcome this thought."
"Naseem and Hazimaan handled the transaction. I am not sure exactly how much money came to us. Must be around Rs 2-2.5 lakh".
Another of the rape survivors is 45 years old now. She was allegedly raped by five Hindu men. Her husband died more than a decade ago and she has six girls to raise. She said she was paid between Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh to settle. She took the deal around February 2018.
"I also have three sons. They're married and do not help me with my expenses." She says if they had settled earlier the Hindu rape accused would have paid more. "Earlier they used to say they were willing to pay more to end the case. But after the BJP came to power, they reduced the ‘price’. They said the verdict would be in their favour even if they didn’t pay me," she told The Quint.
When this reporter asked her how much money she got paid, she repeatedly looked towards Naseem, who was in the same room, for an answer. He interrupted and said, "No one will tell you exactly how much." Later, in the absence of Naseem, the 45-year-old said she was paid between Rs 2 to 2.5 lakh to stop pursuing her case.
We also met a third Muslim rape survivor, who is now 38 years old. She was allegedly raped by four Hindu men. While she doesn't know how much money she got to change her testimony, she says it happened around Holi (March) 2018. Her 41-year-old husband who sells bedsheets, table clothes in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, says they got Rs 3 lakh. "I was not in the village when the call came, Naseem handled things for us," he said.
While Naseem denies being involved in brokering the deals, Fugana’s Sunil Singh, whose relatives are amongst the 22 accused, feel otherwise. "Naseem ke vishwaas pe aake vo log baat karne lag gaye the. (After Naseem helped build trust, these people began talking to us)," he told The Quint.
In the second arrangement there are claims money was exchanged too. A total of Rs 6 lakh was given to the Hindu rape survivor according to both Sunil and Naseem. However when The Quint asked the lawyer of the Hindu rape survivor, Rahul Choudhary, he refused to speak. “I will not share my client’s secrets with you. You can speak to him directly,” Choudhary said. The Hindu rape survivor’s younger brother Sudhir said, “Yes, we compromised. Yes, my sister and I changed our statements in court, but no money was given to us,” he insisted.
3. Did the Women Play a Role in Deciding the Fate of Their Alleged Rapists?
As is evident by how these women knew next to nothing about how much money they would get, the answer to this is a resounding no. All of the rape survivors we met said that they were not a part of any meeting held to decide the compromise. They didn't know how much money they got to alter their testimonies.
Hazimaan Ali, father-in-law of the rape survivor who died in 2017, said women were not a part of the deliberations. When asked whether his daughter-in-law did not want to see the men she named behind bars, he said, "Yes, they wanted those responsible for the torture to be punished. But we explained to the women that the 10 Muslims they are saving are poor and that their kids and wives will give them their blessings. These kids will end up begging for money. That is when they agreed." He said.
Naseem, the alleged ‘deal broker’, and also the husband of one of the rape survivors, said, "Aurto ko manaya gaya. 'Pata nahi kitna bada naash ho jayega poore zile ka ismein, isliye kar lo'. (The women were convinced. We told them what if due to this issue there is a bigger blunder in the district, think about that and listen.) Muslims convinced their women and Hindus convinced their women."
When this reporter asked Naseem the contact details of another rape survivor, he casually asked me to note down the malik’s (owner’s) number. The use of that word suggest women here are still seen by many men as ‘property’ belonging to their husbands. "This is how one speaks in the village," he insisted.
The four thousand Muslims who left Fugana village, including the families of the 5 women who were allegedly raped, continue to swear to never go back to their burnt homes and mosques. And as those structures wither with time, the promise of 'societal harmony ' stands hollow, and in stark contrast to ground reality.
(Clarification: When the story was published three of the five Muslim rape survivors had accepted that they got money to change their testimonies. The copy has been updated on 7 September after the fourth Muslim rape survivor conceded.)