Inside the only pucca room lies the charred remains of a blanket. There are two other rooms of mud and thatch, two bicycles and gunny bags of rice and wheat provided on Saturday by the local administration. What is missing is what set the stage for the alleged sexual assault and suicide of one of the six daughters of this house — a toilet.
“We don’t have any money to build toilets. It is not because we like to defecate in the open, but we have no other option,” said the 45-year-old mother of the 16-year-old who was allegedly raped on Tuesday night while she had gone to the fields nearby to relieve herself in Bargadiya village, about 25 km from Lakhimpur Kheri district headquarters in UP.
Police from the nearest station at Gola said the girl committed suicide by setting herself ablaze on Wednesday. They added that the accused Nirdesh Verma, an 18-year-old from the village, was arrested on Thursday following a complaint of rape, abetment to suicide and intimidation lodged by the girl’s father.
But that’s small consolation for the girl’s family and other residents in the village of around 500 people. With toilets in only 12 households, they say their women are helpless.
“We survive on daily labour. No one has ever offered us any help to build a toilet,” said the victim’s mother, adding that the family of eight survives on two bighas of land and the labour of the girl’s father. Of the seven Muslim households in the village, only one has a toilet.
“Most of the villagers are landless labourers or with meagre land holdings. We don’t have the income to build toilets. The first priority is to get a pucca room constructed. We have also not been offered any support in last ten years to build a toilet,” said Om Prakash, a Dalit and former Gram Panchayat member, whose house too does not have a toilet.
Prakash’s wife Urmila is the newly elected Gram Panchayat member but their neighbourhood has only one toilet, which is out of use and filled with mud. “I live in a hut. How am I expected to build a toilet?” asked Manju Devi, mother of two teenaged daughters, pointing towards her one-room thatched house.
Ishwar Deen Verma, one of the few residents with a toilet at his house, claimed that he got one built four years ago with help from the state government. “Some toilets were constructed by the government but many villagers converted them into kitchens or for other use,” he alleged.
But Parveen Bano, a teenaged girl from the victim’s locality, claimed that all help provided by the state government was cornered by “rich people”.
Gedanlal, speaking on behalf of his wife and village sarpanch Gita, said the administration “was aware of the lack of toilets in the village”. “But she was elected pradhan only a couple of months ago,” he said.
When contacted, District Magistrate Kinjal Singh, who visited the girl’s family on Saturday, said, “The lack of toilets is noticed only after such an incident takes place and it is a factor behind insecurity for women. We have allocated three toilets for three Muslim families in the neighbourhood and have ordered the installation of three solar lights on the path that leads to the place where the alleged rape occurred.”
Recalling the events that led to the girl’s suicide, her father said, “She had gone to relieve herself in the fields on Tuesday night. When we found she was missing, we searched and found her lying unconscious on the field. She did not tell us anything that night. The next day she told us about the rape. I have six daughters. I did not lodge a complaint then because it would have made it difficult for us to get her married,” he said.
But on Wednesday afternoon, when the victim’s parents had gone out, the girl immolated herself using kerosene, said police. By the time neighbours who noticed the smoke could force the door open, she had been charred with almost 100 per cent burns, said police.
The fallout of the alleged rape and suicide continues to reverberate in the village, with residents expressing anger at the alleged 50-hour delay in conducting the girl’s post-mortem.
DM Singh said she had sought a report from SP Akhilesh Chaurasiya over the delay, and written to the Principal Secretary (Home) for action against the in-charge of Gola station for negligence. “Also, I was not informed about the incident even though it was a serious case,” said Singh.
The in-charge, N C Gangwar, however, said the body was sent for post-mortem on Wednesday and blamed doctors for the delay.
“The post-mortem has not confirmed sexual assault. But it was done so late. I am requesting the government if any further examination can be done,” said Singh.
The DM added that she would hold a panchayat in the village “to iron out the differences between communities because a few members are scared and are even talking of being shifted to some other place”.
The mother of the accused, meanwhile, claimed that her son was “wrongly implicated” and that her husband and other sons had left the village. However, the girl’s mother said they never faced any problem with other villagers and have never been harassed before or after the incident.