A 12-yr-old died of snake bite when out to relieve herself at 4 am this June in Katra Sadatganj. That things haven’t changed doesn’t surprise the family of the cousins found hanging here in May 2014. That things have gone back so quickly to being “normal” does
THE memory of the night two girls stepped out to relieve themselves and were found hanging from a tree in village Katra Sadatganj in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district has already started fading here. The village of around 3,500 people now talks about another night, of two months ago. It was 4 am one June day — Bitiya Devi doesn’t remember the date — and still pitch dark when her daughter Radha stepped out alone to attend nature’s call.
Just 200 metres from home, the 12-year-old was bitten by what the family suspects was a snake. “Radha walked back and lay down. When we got up a little later, she told us her hand had gone numb. We took her to a vaidji (quack). He couldn’t help. We went to a sapera (snake charmer) a few villages away. He told us there was no hope. By afternoon, my daughter had stopped breathing,” says Bitiya, 33.
The only government primary health centre in the village has no anti-venom serum. Villagers remember a 45-year-old woman who died under similar circumstances out in the fields one night. That was 23 years ago. The family of the cousins, 14 and 15, who were allegedly gangraped and killed on May 27, 2014, lives 10 houses away. The CBI that probed the case concluded it was a case of suicide. The mother of one of the victims seethes at this “lack of justice”.
However, she adds, nobody else in the family would have to suffer her daughter’s fate. “My daughters and I only use the toilet built in our courtyard now. I will never put our lives in danger again.”
At Bitiya’s one-room, semi-pucca home, which does not have a toilet, a photograph of Lord Shiva with Vasuki, the lord of snakes, hangs on the wall. The family also has a photo of Radha’s body wrapped in a pink blanket — their only photo of her. Tearing up looking at the photo, Bitiya asks what choice she has. The mother of five more children, the eldest 10 and two of them daughters, says, “Who is going to accompany them to the fields if they want to go to the toilet? I am never free.” Her husband Rakesh works as a farm labourer.
A cousin of the two girls found dead in May 2014 says nothing has changed. “There is never a week when newspapers don’t have articles of women and girls being molested or attacked by men and animals on their way to the fields,” the 19-year-old says, pointing to one such recent item in the Hindi daily Dainik Jagaran. What he finds more surprising is how quickly things have gone back to being “normal” in Katra Sadatganj, he adds, “even after such a big incident that shook the country and caught the world’s eye”.
The promised toilets came to only a few homes, add villagers. Of Katra Sadatganj’s 530-odd households, roughly 120 have toilets now. Sulabh International had surveyed houses and taken down details. “But they built only 108 toilets, for the family of the victims and their friends and relatives. They did not build one toilet after that. We are still waiting,” says Neeta, 17, who will go out with sister Laxmi to the fields once the sun sets.
“I have been waiting all day,” she adds.
Gyanmati, 89, who suffers from acute asthma, says she got a hole bored in her courtyard. When one fills up with faeces, the family covers it with bricks and gets another dug. Daughter-in-law Puja, who is eight months pregnant, shudders thinking about the “safest spot” in the village should they need to go during daytime, for “emergencies”. “We have to walk far, to the bagiya (garden) beyond the mango tree. That is where the two girls were found hanging.”
Even the men walk at least a kilometre from the village at daytime to relieve themselves, as part of an unwritten code. Sulabh International’s Uttar Pradesh head Avinash Kumar says the NGO drew up a list of the 115 poorest households in need of toilets. “We were given that target by our organisation and we met it in time. The families which had toilets from government funds were left out.”
However, many of the Sulabh toilets came up in houses built under the Indira Awaas Yojana six years ago, with sanctioned funds of Rs 36,000 each. These already had remnants of toilets built under that scheme, which are now used mostly as store-rooms.
The villagers have also heard of the Open Defecation Free project of the Union Water Resources Ministry’s Namami Ganga plan, under which toilets are being built for Rs 12,000 each in 1,632 gram panchayats along the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and West Bengal. They ask why Katra Sadatganj hasn’t been covered in this, unlike neighbouring Jata and Ramsi Nangla villages.
“Katra Sadatganj is on the banks of the Ganga. The villages earmarked for the plan are kilometres away from the banks. This is unfair,” says Pravesh Kumar, a teacher who also runs the village-level Jan Sewa Kendra for government paperwork.
On top of it, he adds, “We have heard inspection teams conduct surprise checks to ensure no one is defecating in the open. If caught, one has to pay a fine of Rs 500.” Katra Sadatganj pradhan Prem Pal says nothing has trickled down to him. “I have been given almost no money to spend on toilets by the state government. And the residents all blame me. What am I to do?”
The houses which are most likely to remain without toilets are those of the migrant Yadavs, including that of the accused, who have been displaced by the vagaries of the Ganga — or the “Ganga-kateves”, as the resident villagers call them.
Like the other 40-odd migrant families here, that of the accused doesn’t own any land. “So my daughter-in-law and I relieve ourselves at the foot of the bund. It is slippery and steep and pitch-dark at night, with the river only a few feet away,” says the mother. She doesn’t expect this to change. “We do not have money to build a toilet and we will never be allotted one by the government because migrants are not registered with the gram panchayat.”
The father of the accused says they haven’t stepped into the village since the incident. This year has been particularly bad for the family as the watermelon field he tends in Badam Nangla village, across the river, was eroded by the Ram Ganga, a tributary of the Ganga.
The accused, now 20, 23 and 25 years of age and out on bail (the youngest claimed to be a juvenile at the time of the incident), look after the field with him. “God is with us,” asserts the father. “I have only told my sons not to get involved with any girls or make any mistake. That’s all.”
That may be one thing that has changed since May 2014. Says Pradeep, Neeta and Laxmi’s father, “Dabangai kam ho gayi hai (Lumpenism has come down). Instances of men flashing torches at women, abusing or teasing them have fallen considerably.”
In another part of the village, with the sun setting, Bitiya is getting ready to leave for the fields with her younger ones. Refusing to answer any more questions, she says, “Will these get back my Radha?” Darkness also covers the spot where the cousins were buried, 3 km from home, along the banks of the Ganga. As part of its five-month probe, the CBI had sought to exhume the bodies. It gave up realising they had been under the river too deep and for too long.
GOING BACK TO HEADLINES
On May 27, 2014, two cousins with no toilet at home went out to relieve themselves in a Badaun village at night, and were allegedly raped and found hanging. With the NSSO Swachhta survey just out, listing UP among the worst-faring states in rural sanitation,
The Sunday Express returns to Katra Sadatganj