On a door of their home are pasted postcard-sized photographs of two girls, each hanging from a separate branch of a mango tree. The elder cousin is in a green salwar suit, the younger in red and pink, the dupatta around her neck inches below a knot of threads she had stitched herself. The bodies swayed like that for 14 hours as villagers protested, until three brothers were charged with rape and murder, two policemen from the village chowki booked for dereliction of duty and dismissed, and three others suspended.
Three weeks since the May 27 twin murders at Katra Sadatganj village in Badaun, investigations by the UP police and now the CBI are yet to throw up a clear sequence of the events that took place in the 10 hours between the girls stepping out that evening, supposedly to relieve themselves, and the discovery of their bodies the next morning. With accounts varying after a point, investigators are relying on lie-detector tests and brain mapping of the accused.
The two families
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The girls belonged to the Maurya Shakya OBC community. The accused are Yadavs, also OBCs, three brothers whose family had moved to Katra Sadatganj five years ago after their village of Badam Nangla, about 2 km ahead along the Ganga, was immersed in floods.
The elder girl, 16, dropped out after class VIII from a private school. She had lost her mother as a child and was three when her father, the youngest of three brothers, married a teenager. The “new mother”, who has no children, says of her stepdaughter: “She sometimes said she wanted to study, but we had started looking for a groom.”
The younger cousin, around 14 according to her postmortem but 12 by her family’s account, had just completed class VI at the same school. Her father is the eldest brother of the other girl’s father. She was fond of embroidery and handicrafts; cops who guard the house now use hand fans she had made.
The main accused, youngest among his brothers, is 15 according to his father. He had come home a month earlier, after three months in Delhi working as a labourer. His father says he is is “ashamed” of him: “In front of me, he told the police that he was in love with the elder girl.”
The second son, 18, had appeared for the XII finals from a school in Etah, where he had been staying with his sister, and returned to the village a week earlier. His father had promised him a motorcycle should he get into college.
The eldest, around 22, is married, with a one-year-old daughter. He was the only one who stayed in the village, and worked the fields of Yadavs from neighbouring villages.
The initial search
The elder girl’s father says she cooked the family’s dinner and stepped out with her cousin around 8 pm. This is an estimate, for hardly anyone in the village keeps a watch. Not long after, the family went searching for them.
Veerpal and Vijay Singh, farmers of the Maurya Shakya community who lived near the fields where the girls would eventually be found, recall how they were woken up after having gone to bed by 8 pm. “I saw about eight members of the girls’ family with torches walking towards here, the women in tears,” Veerpal recalls. “Najru said he had heard the girls screaming here and being dragged away around 8 or 8.15 pm.”
Najru is a neighbour, “like an uncle to the girls”, and the primary eyewitness. Veerpal and Vijay are among 25 witnesses questioned by first the SIT and then the CBI.
“I wondered why I had not heard a scream. Maybe I had fallen asleep. I asked Narju whom he had seen with the girls, and he said he had seen the youngest accused,” Veerpal says. Vijay, who says he was woken by knocks on his door, too said he had heard nothing.
The screams reportedly heard by Najru, or Babu Ram, 25, apparently came ahead of a confrontation on which there are conflicting accounts.
“Around 8 to 8.15 pm, I had gone to check my fields. I heard the girls screaming,” says Najru. “When I flashed my torch I only caught the youngest brother in the light, with four or people behind him whom I could not identify. They were dragging the girls. I tried to stop him, but he threatened me with a gun, so I ran.”
By the youngest brother’s account given to the police later, however, it was Narju who had threatened him. One of the suspended policemen says, “The boy said he met the girls in the evening, when the elder cousin had called him for some money to go to the mela. He said since it was dark, she had brought her cousin.” He says the accused claimed that the three were returning home when they ran into Najru.
Forensics teams from the police and the CBI, who have taken the accused and Najru for a reconstruction, say the two have shown the same spot for the confrontation. Yet none of the seven or eight families who live around the fields, including those or Veerpal and Vijay, appears to have heard the fight.
The girls’ family says Najru informed them around 8.30 pm. “When five men are dragging two young girls, what does it mean? We tried to be discreet while searching,” the father of the younger girl says. Even their nearest neighbours say they hadn’t known the family had been searching for the girls.
Later, the family alerted people around the fields. Around 10 to 10.30 pm, a group of about 25 including the girls’ fathers and Najru went to the police chowki.
The suspended cop recalls how defensive the girls’ family was of Narju. After arresting the accused, he says, he had to use his lathi to get him to talk. “But when I raised my lathi to get Najru to talk, the girls’ fathers stopped us. They refused to let us keep Najru,” he says.
According to the boys’ family, there had been another fight between the accused and Narju the day before the disappearance. “My son said that on May 26, our buffaloes had strayed into Najru’s field, and they got into an argument that turned into a fight,” the father says. Najru denies it and calls it an attempt to malign him. “The Yadavs will kill me and the police are trying to protect them,” he says. He has written to the DM seeking a licence for a weapon.
At the house
Before the family went to the police, Veerpal and Vijay had become the first men to go searching at the house of the accused. “The family was in tears, so Veerpal and I decided to go the house of the boys. It was around 9.30 pm, I think,” Vijay says.
They found the boys’ elderly mother and her second son sleeping in the courtyard. “We asked them about the youngest,” Veerpal said. The second brother then called out and the youngest came out of his uncle’s hut opposite the house. “We asked him where he had been that evening, and to tell us where the girls were. He said he didn’t know anything, he had been sleeping,” Veerpal said. Vijay says the eldest brother, who was sleeping on the roof, too came down. “He asked us what the matter was… We returned to the fields,” Vijay says.
The Indian Express met the parents of the accused at Jatti village. They had fled Katra Sadatganj after the bodies had been found, fearing a Maurya backlash. To meet us, the couple say they waded through chest-deep water, he carrying her on his back.
The mother says her youngest son was the only one who had gone out, around 7.30 pm, and that he returned about an hour later. “We went to bed around 9 pm. Vijay and Veerpal came about an hour after that,” she says. Her account of the conversation largely matches that of the two farmers.
Meanwhile, the girls’ family and others of their community had reached the police.
At the chowki
They say “Yadav inspectors” Sarvesh and Chhatrapal abused them. “Sarvesh asked us our caste, and after that started abusing us. Chhatrapal joined him. The other three police officers in the chowki, particularly the in-charge, helped us. He took out his motorbike and went to the house of the accused with us,” Najru says.
Sarvesh and Chhatrapal were dismissed on May 28, and made accused. The other three policemen have been suspended. Senior police officials explained to the village later that constable Chhatrapal was a Kurmi, not a Yadav.
The girls’ family and many villagers say the accused had named Najru only on the direction of the police. “Sarvesh was trying to protect the accused and put this idea into his head. Why would he name Najru? Najru was helping us,” the father of the younger girl says. “Sarvesh asked us to leave and said the girls would return in a couple of hours.”
The suspended policeman agrees Sarvesh might have “asked villagers their caste”, but “it was the middle of the night, so maybe he was grumpy, and asking about caste is the custom here”.
The suspended officer describes the police visit to the house of the accused: “The youngest brother denied he had done anything to the girls, but we were not convinced, so I brought him on my bike to the chowki.” Najru says he also saw a torch and trousers lying by the boy’s bed, but the suspended policeman does not remember.
The mother of the accused recalls how about 20 people from the Maurya community and five policemen barged in. “They asked about my youngest son, and took him away on a motorcycle. My two elder sons went after them and returned around 1 am, saying he had been arrested,”she says.
“By daybreak, people with weapons were outside and screaming abuse. Around 6 am, two policemen came and told us my youngest son had been in love with one of the girls, and that both girls had been found hanging.”
The brothers’ father, 60, had gone to the riverbank to tend to his watermelon crop and spent the night in the fields. “On May 28, I returned home to this chaos. The policemen in the chowki could do nothing — we saw one of them being beaten. We had to flee, there were women in our house.”
In a couple of days, the police came where they had settled and arrested the other two brothers. “My elder sons were home the whole night. The youngest came home by 8.30 pm and police took him at midnight. People searching all night found the girls in the morning. How could he have hanged the girls in the morning?” the mother says.
The younger girl’s father agrees people had been looking around the mango tree until 3 or 4 am, and seen no signs of their presence there. “We broke up into groups and went to nearby Yadav villages and around the fields. Najru was with the group,” he says.
It was the two accused cops who reported that the girls were hanging from the mango tree in the early hours, says the suspended policeman. There were no eyewitnesses to the discovery and the CBI is now looking into the role of the two policemen, particularly Sarvesh.
Around daybreak, the family hired a jeep to meet senior police officials in the city. “We had just started when we saw constables Sarvesh and Chhatrapal on a bike in our rear-view mirror. They stopped at the house of the accused; we drove on,” the father of the elder cousin says. Minutes after this, he says, he got a call from home. “My wife said Sarvesh had come home and told them that our girls were hanging from the mango tree. We ran to the tree. I fainted when I saw the girls.”
The discovery intrigues the police. “At least 25 villagers say they were out till 3 am and saw nothing around the mango trees. The accused was in the police chowki the whole night and his brothers till about 1 am. So who killed the girls between 3 am and around 5 am?” says an official, also suspended.
He says the girls weighed about 70-75 kg each and the branches were 10-12 feet high. “It would have taken at least five or six people to have hanged them from here, even if there was no resistance. How is it possible that nobody even heard them, including those who live near the fields?”
A police forensics team found no evidence of a scuffle around the tree. But at an adjoining patch of eucalyptus trees, about 10-12 metres away, the team has unearthed beer bottles, and some broken bangles. Senior police officials say these could be connected to the night’s events, though the girls’ families say they never wore ornaments.
According to the postmortem reports, ornaments including nose rings, kadas, and rings were found on both bodies. Last week, when the youngest accused was brought to the village to reconstruct the evening’s events, he reportedly showed a third area near a mint patch, supposedly their usual meeting spot and where he said he had discussed the mela with his “friend”.
At least two persons who knew the girls have mentioned the mela to The Indian Express. The elder’s stepmother says she had heard the girls talking about the mela while cooking that night. “I told them to shut up and get on with the food.” Asked if they knew about a boy, she says. “We didn’t talk about such things. Maybe if she had a real mother, she would have known.”
The other one to mention the mela was a classmate of the younger girl. She has a small shop selling accessories for women. The day before their death, the girls had visited the shop. “They owed us Rs 40 and wanted to return it, and said they had another Rs 100 which they said they would spend at the mela. I told them to repay us later and enjoy the mela,” the classmate says.
State DGP A L Banerjee suggests property as the possible motive behind the murder of the elder cousin who was an only child, without giving any specifics. While the postmortem stated they died of “asphyxia from antemortem hanging” and that their “perineal findings were suggestive of rape”, the UP police chief says there was a possibility one of the girls was not raped, and both may have been hanged after they were killed. To a question, he says, “I will not use the expression ‘honour killing’ until I can prove it; I am just saying there could be other motives.”
The CBI will carry out lie-detector tests and brain mapping of the accused. Results of DNA tests are still awaited from Hyderabad.