Around 8.30 pm on Tuesday, 35-year-old Baburam set out with his torch to check on his two-bigha patch some 500 metres from his home in Katra Sadatganj village in UP’s Badaun district.
Baburam wanted to make sure cows had not trampled over his mint crop — and he carried the torch because the transformer in the village had blown out eight days earlier, and Katra Sadatganj had not had even its usual one daily hour of electricity ever since.
Baburam’s land is close to the large mango tree that Katra Sadatganj is often identified by — it is the only mango tree for several miles around, beloved of children who climb its branches, and revered as sacred by the villagers.
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“I was walking back when I heard the screams of two girls. I flashed my torch around but couldn’t see anything at first. Then I saw movement, and Pappu Yadav and three other men. They were dragging one of my nieces by the hair,” Baburam said on Friday.
“I ran forward and hit Pappu. But he pulled out a gun and stuck it in my shoulder. He said he would kill me. I was scared, and I fled. I now wish I hadn’t,” Baburam said.
Two girls, cousins and minors, from the Dalit Maurya community were kidnapped, gangraped and hanged from Katra Sadatganj’s mango tree on Tuesday night. Based on Baburam’s testimony, three men, including a policeman, have been arrested. Brothers Pappu and Avdesh Yadav are accused of gangrape and kidnapping, and constable Sarvesh Yadav of conspiracy.
A third brother, Urvesh Yadav, and another policeman, head constable Chattrapal Singh, are absconding. The family of the Yadav brothers, which owns about four bighas of land in the village, has fled, and their house was on Friday guarded by a large number of policemen.
The UP Police have admitted “gross negligence” on their part. Politicians from the BJP, SP and BSP, and a team from the National Commission for Women have visited the village to assure the girls’ families of their support. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has said the incident was “unfortunate”.
Relatives of the victims have alleged that police at the local Ushait chowki had refused to act on their complaint, and threatened to kill them. Members of the girls’ families, including their mothers and brothers, had set out for the chowki soon after Baburam returned and announced what he had seen.
“We told constable Sarvesh Yadav that our girls had been missing for two hours, and that we wanted to lodge a report. He told us to go back home, and that the girls too would return in two hours. So, we left,” the mother of the younger girl said, breaking down in sobs.
Meanwhile, a group of men from the village went to the spot where Baburam had seen Pappu and the girls. But it was too dark, and they returned, finding nothing.
After two hours passed and the girls did not return, their mothers went back to the chowki. Chattrapal Singh too was present this time. “He told us that they would not register a case, and that we should go away. They said they would kill us if we insisted on filing one,” said a brother of one of the girls.
It was 1 am on Wednesday by then. Three hours later, the police told the families what had happened to the girls. “Sarvesh Yadav told us that they were hanging from the mango tree,” said the father of one of the victims.
The families and relatives protested around the tree for nearly six hours, refusing to take the bodies down. The SP City and SP Rural subsequently arrived.
Badaun SSP Atul Saxena told The Indian Express, “We have sent a report to the state government and deployed several teams to apprehend the two remaining accused. The cause of death is asphyxia due to ante mortem hanging. Rape is confirmed. There is a possibility that the girls were alive when they were hanged. We admit there was gross negligence on behalf of the personnel. We have terminated them from service. Such people do not deserve to be in the force.”
Saxena said the police have asked for a DNA test on the accused. “It seems the accused had been following the girls around, although there has been no such complaint from the girls’ families. There seems to be no prior enmity between the families, although locals have claimed that the accused were troublemakers and would often stalk and tease women,” he said.
The officer rejected the possibility that the girls may not have been murdered by the accused. “This is no case of honour killing or any other theory. This is a case of mental criminality. They were sick minded people who did this. The family will get justice,” he said.
The village of 6,000-odd people is home to at least 25 different communities, with Mauryas being more numerous than Yadavs. The father of one of the girls said he owns two bighas of land, which rarely brings him even Rs 100 a day, with which he feeds himself, his wife and four children.
Few houses in the village have toilets, and the women are able to go out to relieve themselves only after it is dark, in groups of two or three. “The men watch us and pass comments. We have requested our local leaders to provide toilets and electricity, but no one listens to us,” said Shanti Devi, a Maurya resident of the village.
Pradhan Kamal Kant Tiwari said, “We need funds for electricity and basic amenities. This was supposed to be an ‘Ambedkar village’ created during Mayawati’s tenure. But there is nothing here.”
Villagers said the accused Yadav brothers came to Sadatganj from Badav Nangla village two and a half years ago, after the Ganga swallowed their farmland. “The policemen have been supportive of the Yadavs simply because they belong to the same community,” said the father of one of the victims.
Shamina Shafeeq, NCW member who visited the village on Friday, said, “Half the incidents of rape in the country occur in UP. We will extend every posssible help to the victims’ families.”
Amid the grief and shock, Sadatganj suddenly saw an unexpected flicker of cheer on Friday. The transformer was repaired. The village will have power again, if only for an hour daily. But when Baburam goes out as usual to check on his crop before turning in, all he will have for light is his small torch.