‘We Left Survivor & Kin to Fight Alone’: How Fear Gripped Unnao

Veering between defensiveness & shame, villagers tell The Quint why they ostracised the family in their time of need

6 min read
Hindi Female

(All names in the story have been changed to protect the villagersidentity.)

"Voh MLA hain, unke paas apne aadmi hain. Hum unke baare mein kuch bole toh maare jayengein, (he is an MLA and has his henchmen. If we speak against him, we will be killed),” 70-year-old farmer Sonaram tells The Quint, sitting a stone’s throw away from the Unnao rape survivor’s home, some 70 kilometres from Lucknow.

The fear that grips villagers when BJP MLa Kuldeep Sengar’s name is uttered is palpable. They are sympathetic towards the survivor’s family but tell us they severed communication with them, did not provide them moral support and refrained from inviting them for functions... leaving them to fight their battle alone.

Too caught up to read? Listen to the story here:

The Unnao rape case is back in the news after suffering a significant setback. The car which was carrying the rape survivor, her aunts and their lawyer, was involved in a head-on collision with a truck with a blackened license plate, on 28 July.

Veering between defensiveness & shame, villagers tell The Quint why they ostracised the family in their time of need
King George Medical University, where the victims were rushed after the accident.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)
The aunts, of whom one was a key witness, lost their lives, while the survivor and the lawyer are battling for theirs. The owner of the truck belongs to the same village as the accused BJP MLA.

Four Deaths and Counting

Since the survivor – who at 17 sought a job from Sengar – said he had raped her, the family has witnessed four deaths. Sonaram says, “Now, four bodies from the family will be cremated next to the Ganga.”

The survivor’s father had been the first to succumb. In April 2018, he was killed in police custody, allegedly by police torture. The circumstances of his death are murky. In November 2018, the police picked up his brother (rape survivor’s uncle) for beating up the BJP MLA’s brother.

Seeing one of her sons in jail and the other brutally killed, the survivor’s 70-year-old grandmother fell into despair.

“We wouldn’t talk, but you would hear that she was under a lot of tension. That she kept falling sick. That she wasn’t eating. God gave her the boon of two sons and now, if both are not around for support, then what will happen?”
Ravi, Farmer

She passed away in February 2019. “I remember they all cried loudly, screamed when that happened. Very few of us went upto them then,” Sonaram recounts.

Veering between defensiveness & shame, villagers tell The Quint why they ostracised the family in their time of need
By road, the rape survivor often used to go and meet their uncle who was recently lodged in a jail in Raebareli.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Over time, the survivor’s family began to rely on their uncle. In July 2019, he was convicted in a 19-year-old murder case and jailed in Raebareli. Since then, the family took regular trips to meet him.

In fact, the family had been on its way to meet him when the collision occurred.

“She used to live in Delhi with him but after the police picked her husband up in November 2018, she moved here. The other aunt who died was her real sister, who would accompany her to meet him,” Ravi recounts.

Veering between defensiveness & shame, villagers tell The Quint why they ostracised the family in their time of need
The cremation of the aunts at Ganga Ghat, about an hour-long walk away from the village in Unnao, on 31 July. 
(Photo: Aishwarya Iyer/The Quint)

When The Quint talks to the survivor’s neighbours, they accept that fear had driven them to ostracise the family which was embroiled in battle.

“We did not want the same fate as all her family members are getting, and we were right, weren’t we?”

‘We Stopped Interacting With Them’

Before her alleged rape in 2017, the survivor lived in the village with her three sisters, a younger brother, her mother and her paternal grandmother. “The girl's father lived in Delhi and so did the uncle (chacha) with his wife. They worked in some factory in Delhi and would come home once every few months to meet them,” Sonaram says.

Veering between defensiveness & shame, villagers tell The Quint why they ostracised the family in their time of need
The family had restricted themselves to their home, cutting themselves off from the villagers who had ostracised them.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

The house has two rooms and is made of mud and bricks. It stands empty as everyone is at the hospital, praying for the survivor to be out of danger. However, since the incident, villagers had stopped interacting with the family. The men said, “Now the father died and the uncle was arrested. There were no men in the house. Who would we go to talk to? We cannot go up to the women and talk, that is not right,” Ravi says, adding that women do not come in front of men in villages.

When we asked if they had enquired about the family’s well-being after the father’s death and his brother’s arrest, they were silent. “We mind our own business here,” Ravi responded.

While there were no older men in the family, there were four girls and the mother. The Quint met some women and girls and asked them if they knew how the family was doing. “No, we don't know how they were doing, they seemed alright,” a 66-year-old woman said, uninterested.

Another woman, 39-year-old Sheila, said, “In villages, we women have a lot of functions amongst ourselves. For example, there is a pooja we do for Sankhta Ma (name of the goddess), where if we ask for a mannat and if it comes true, then we invite the women over and give them prasad. There are also ceremonies of ear-piercing of girls when they are 7, 9 or 11.”

When asked if the women from the family were ever invited, she said, “They used to be invited like everyone else. But not after the haadsa (incident).”

“These are auspicious occasions, we only invite people we want to. Anyway, they seemed fine amongst themselves,” another woman, Sita, says dismissively.

The villagers told The Quint that the family has four-five bighas of land close to the Makhi Railway Station.

“Earlier, people used to work on their fields and grow wheat and rice on it, but after the incident, no one wanted to work there anymore. They would ask around if someone wanted labour but no one wanted that job,” says Vishal, who is a 31-year-old farmer and father of three. 

When asked how the family was surviving without their father's income and no one working on their field, they said they didn't know, but all seemed well.

It was clear that the family was tainted, as was the job.


‘Threats, Yes, But We’re Scared for Ourselves’

The villages confirmed that they saw the intimidation and threats the family was facing. Defensively, Ravi said,

“Yes, we did see people come in and threaten them. On some occasions, I have seen a few bikes stand outside the home and leave after, but why should I say this to anyone? The CBI will keep calling me to Lucknow. Four trips and I will be out of all my savings. I have a family of six, so my conscience is clean. I don’t need to do anything.”

What do they think of the BJP MLA accused of the crime?

There was only silence.

“Haathi ke madhni mein kaun padna chahta hai?” (Who wants to get involved in the matters of big men?)

Eventually, they open up. They say they are afraid to speak out and would much rather leave the village to live safely and in peace if they could. “We also have families to take care of. But our curse is that we are poor, we don't have the resources to relocate,” Vishal says.

After a few moments, he continues, "Akele pad gaye hain yeh log. Tareek pe tareek pe jaate hain ye ye sab hone ke bavajood. Pata nahi aur kya ho jaaye unke saath...(The family is alone. After all that has happened, they regularly go to hearings. We don't know what else might happen to them...),” he looks concerned and for the first time, so do the others.

Veering between defensiveness & shame, villagers tell The Quint why they ostracised the family in their time of need
The truck that rammed into the car carrying the rape survivor. You can see the number plate has been painted black. 
(Photo: PTI)

Ajeet, who had been quiet, says, "Humaare mohalle ke hain. Humaare parivaar jaise hain (They are part of our community, they are like family).”

They all agree and look away abashedly.

A little later, we ask, “Why was it then, that you all stopped interacting with the family completely?” Ajeet says, “We had to reluctantly ostracise them... there was no other way to get out of this alive. We had to be hard with them for ourselves.”

Vishal adds, more for his benefit than ours, “It’s not like we could have helped them in any way either.”

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Topics:  BJP MLA   Unnao Rape Case   Kuldeep Sengar 

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