Families of gang-raped cousins: We want justice, not money

Families of gang-raped cousins: We want justice, not money
The grief-stricken father pointing to the mango tree where his 14-year-old daughter and niece, 12, were hanged.

UTTAR PRADESH, India - A 58-year-old man looks up and points to a branch on a mango tree a few metres from his house.

"This is where my 14-year-old daughter was hanged," he says, his voice filled with anger. "And my niece was hanged from this other branch. I want everyone to remember this crime."

On May 27, two girls - the other one only 12 years old - from Katra Shahadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh were kidnapped and gang-raped by three men from the same village.

They had gone to the nearby fields at 7.30pm because there is no toilet in their house. The next morning, the girls were found hanging from the mango tree.

Even though the villagers raised an alarm when the girls were kidnapped, policemen refused to act. Instead, they kept the father and others who accompanied him in the police station overnight.

Angry over the police inaction, the parents and other villagers refused to allow the police to take down the bodies for around eight hours.

The parents cannot be named under Indian law as it would identify the young victims.

While their tears have dried, they are still seething with anger and sorrow.

The girls had led a simple village life - going to school, studying and helping with household chores.

At the two-room home of the elder girl, two photographs are pinned to a weather-worn wooden door. They show the bodies of the two girls - one in a red salwar kameez and the other in a green one - hanging limply from the tree.

Ironically, they are the only photos that the poor families have of their girls.

The grief-stricken mother of the elder girl said they put up the photos for a reason: "I want people to remember that is what happened to my daughter."

The other girl lived next door in the same compound in a similar two-room house. The rooms in both houses are bare, except for a stove in one corner and mattresses in another corner.

The parents said that until the day the girls were raped and murdered, they did not once think they were in danger in the village where they had lived and worked for generations.

"They were so small, I never thought this could happen," said the elder girl's father and the patriarch of the family. "If I had known, I would never have let them go out after dark."

Medical tests revealed that the cousins were alive when they were hanged. Three brothers - Pappu Yadav, Awadhesh Yadav and Urvesh Yadav - have been arrested. Two policemen, Chhatrapal and Sarvesh Yadav, have also been jailed for obstruction of justice.

Now, dozens of armed police officers dressed in khaki uniform are visible in the village, which is in an area where criminal gangs are known to be active and the main occupation is farming.

At least 22 police officers guard the family day and night.

Members of a peasant community, they said they have heard of threats by some fellow villagers of the same dominant Yadav community as the accused and one of the policemen arrested.

While they are afraid to leave their homes, they have vowed to fight for justice.

"We are scared but where will we go? This is our house. We can't leave. We don't know what can happen," said the eldest girl's father, who has refused to accept government compensation of 500,000 rupees (S$10,400) each for the two families.

He is one of three brothers who work on the family land together, earning just enough to feed his family.

"I will not sell my daughter's izzat (honour) for compensation," he said. "But we will still fight to get justice for our daughters."

Uttar Pradesh is India's most populous and among its least developed and poorest states.

Its record on sexual violence is dismal. Law and order has deteriorated since the Samajwadi Party, often accused of providing political patronage to criminal elements, came to power two years ago.

The latest available figures of the National Crime Records Bureau reveal 8,541 rapes of minors throughout the country in 2012. Among them, 1,040 rapes of minors occurred in Uttar Pradesh alone.

Cases of sexual violence against women in Uttar Pradesh rose from 20,993 in 2007 to 23,569 in 2012, but activists suggest the situation is even worse as many cases go unreported.

"There is this very feudal social milieu. It is not just violence. It also has a caste dimension," said Ms Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association.

"Women in rural India are asserting themselves. But there is this strong feudal residue that holds on to its privilege."

Many activists saw the hanging of the girls as a way for the caste to assert their dominance in the village.

Said Mr Ashok Khurana, a social activist based in Badaun district: "The problem is there is no fear of the law and if this isn't checked, it will go to extremes, like this case."

What has further emboldened perpetrators of sexual crimes, activists said, are misogynist comments made by politicians in the state.

Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the leader of the ruling Samajwadi Party, asked during the recent elections: "Should we be giving boys the death penalty for rape? .... Boys make mistakes."

Another politician from the party incredulously claimed such rapes could just not happen.

"Today, no one takes away even a domestic animal of the other person forcefully. If someone takes a domestic animal forcefully, the animal is also not ready," Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agrawal told an Indian news channel when asked to comment on the rape.

Yet, within weeks of the girls' deaths, a 38-year-old woman in Bisauli, about 80km from Badaun, was gang-raped by three men in front of her three-year-old daughter.

The mother-of-two, who moved to the town from a nearby village looking for work, said three men had promised to show her a cheap place to rent. Instead they dragged her into a room and assaulted her while her little girl looked on.

"They kept me in a room through the night and disrespected me," she said. "Then they threw me out of the house in the morning, accusing me of theft."

The woman, who did odd jobs like cooking and cleaning, has chosen to speak out, but faces a tough battle ahead. She will probably have to move from her house.

"Some women tell me it would have been better if I had died instead of bringing this shame on myself. Some of them make fun of me," the woman said.

"But I won't back down, whether I get justice or not. I won't."

The case of the two girls, which attracted international attention, will go into a fast-track court.

The family remains hopeful that the media attention and the handing over of the investigation to a federal agency will ensure the accused are given the harshest punishment.

"I want to see them hang from their necks," said the elder girl's father, surrounded by four gun-totting policemen. "That is what they did to my daughters and they should suffer in the same way. That is the justice I want."

gnirmala@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 23, 2014.
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