Video Editor: Md. Ibrahim
I hardly go out of home now when I am in my village... I feel embarrassed to face the world.
Sonal (name changed) was 17 when four boys in her village near Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh had allegedly tried to rape her and had burnt down her house in March 2017. Reason? Caste hierarchy, she says.
We are Valmikis but we had managed to build a pucca house for ourselves and had also taken another land on lease. Those Pandits were jealous of us and they wanted to drive us out of the village, hence they burnt down my house.Sonal (name changed)
What Happened on 14 March 2017?
Sonal, who has now shifted from her village to Ghaziabad, narrated what happened on the fateful evening of 14 March 2017.
Around 7:30 pm in the evening, I was going to the shed to feed my cattle. The moment I entered the gate, four men came and grabbed me. They dragged me inside our shed and started beating me. Then they tried to force themselves on me.Sonal (name changed)
She says she tried screaming to her brother who was taking a nap inside one of the rooms in the shed but gradually fell unconscious.
They Thrashed me, Dragged me Out of Home, and Left me to Die in Forest: Survivor’s Brother
Sonal’s brother, Raja, says he rushed to the door of the shed when he heard his sister’s cry but a few other men from the village dragged him out of the backdoor into the fields and brutally thrashed him before leaving him to die near the village tower.
I was lying in the shed when my sister screamed I rushed to her. I saw four men there and then more men came and dragged me out of the home. They kept beating me. They took me to the nearby forest and left me to die there. They beat me with rods and sticks they had with them.Raja Valmiki
When he gained consciousness, he remembers lying in a hospital bed in Bulandshahr.
Meanwhile, Raja alleges, the Pandits had ransacked his home and set it on fire along with two of his family’s motorbikes. From what he has heard from the rest of his family, he also alleges that the police was present in the village when his house was burnt down.
Our house was set on fire when police was present in the village. The village chowkidar took them (policemen) out for tea and the villagers set the house on fire.
His allegations were corroborated by one of the accused and the village chowkidaar who admitted that the police, who were deployed to maintain law and order, had gone out for tea when the house was gutted.
The village chowkidaar, however, denied the role of Pandits and claimed that the survivor’s family themselves set their house on fire to implicate the Pandits.
A complaint was registered against 16 members of a Pandit family and despite serious charges like attempt to rape and violation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Atrocities) Act, all the accused were let out on bail by Bulandshahr session court in June 2017.
‘Not a Dalit Vs Brahmin Matter, SC/ST Act Being Misused’
Pankaj Sharma, one of the accused in the case, also alleged that Sonal’s family was misusing the SC/ST Atrocities Act since it was never a Dalit vs Brahmin matter.
That evening, Sonal’s brother got drunk and was abusing and throwing stones at his neighbour who is also a Valmiki. We, Pandits, saw he was creating a ruckus so we went there to resolve the issue. There is no case of rape at all. These are all false allegations.Pankaj Sharma, Accused
However, he told The Quint that the next morning (15 March 2017) he had seen Raja, who was found in a “bad condition”, being taken in an ambulance.
Someone had beaten Raja at night. His house was also set on fire. We don’t know who did it. Next morning an ambulance was called to take him to the hospital. His condition was bad.Pankaj Sharma, Accused
The neighbouring Valmiki family in question also alleged that Raja has fabricated the case to implicate the Pandits when in reality the fight was between two Dalit families.
Speaking to The Quint, Raja refuted claims of an internal scuffle and said the Pandits had bribed his neighbours with Rs 5 lakh and land to strengthen their case.
One of our neighbours from our community has been made a puppet in this case. They gave him five lakh rupees and five acres land to talk in favour of them. He helped them because of his greed.Raja Valmiki
Survivor’s Family Alleges Regular Threats and Intimidation
Even after more than a year, Sonal and her family alleged regular threats and intimidation from the Pandits in the village.
They threaten that they will kill my brother and me. They have bribed the police here. Whenever my brother comes from Delhi, they lock him up. They ask us to settle the matter.
Denying the allegations of intimidation, Pankaj told The Quint, “These are all false claims because like all other harijans, these people also come and clean the garbage from our houses every day. Who is threatening them? If we threatened them, they would have left the village by now.”
He further said, “SC/ST Act is being misused by 80 percent people and only 20 percent actually needs the act to be in place.”
SC/ST Act, in Its Original Form, Passed in Lok Sabha on 6 August
According to NCRB data released in 2017, Uttar Pradesh recorded more than a quarter of crimes against the country’s scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The number across the country had also seen a spike of 5.5 percent in 2016, according to NCRB.
Despite the data, the Supreme Court of India on 20 March, citing an increase in the number of false cases, ordered certain safeguards against arrest under the SC/ST Act. The move was seen by many as an attempt to dilute the act.
The bill, in its original form, was passed by the Lok Sabha on 6 August.
Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot asserted that the NDA government favoured reservation "and will continue to be in favour reservation for SC/ST".
The amendment, he said, will strengthen the legislative provisions to protect SC/STs.