A year ago, when a 90-member caste panchayat in Rateu village, 100-km from Barmer, issued a diktat to ostracise a family, it was the two young sisters who refuse to cow down. Their two older siblings, accused of murdering their cousin, were sent to jail and their parents forced to leave the village so that they could earn a living and give them an education. So the two sisters, aged 18 and 20, never missed a class, making the 5-km trek across fields and dunes on foot and another 15-km ride to reach school regularly.
Their spirit agitated the villagers, who considered it a blatant show of disrespect for the caste panchayat’s diktat. The deceased cousin’s father, Ramji Ram, could not bear to see the sisters walk across his fields on their way to school and often threatened. One morning in March this year, when the girls were heading to school, Ramji allegedly beat them up. The girls approached the local police but were turned away with clear instructions not to approach higher authority.
Days passed and the girls once again got busy with their books. However, when they were on their way back after attending the Independence Day celebrations in school, the girls were beaten up again. The next day they registered a case against their uncle at the Gida police station and while they were walking back at around 8.30 pm, three youths allegedly raped them on a sand dune near the village. While they sank their teeth on the victims’ flesh and shoved sticks into their private parts, the three youths — two from the same village Punion ki Dhani in Rateu where the girls live and the other from an adjacent village — told them this was their punishment for roaming around freely despite being ostracised.
That night when their father, who had incidentally come to the village to oversee their fields, went out to look for them, found them on the dune allegedly pinned down by the three accused — Birda Ram, Chatura Ram and Kanha Ram. When they went to file a complaint the next day, several villagers menacingly stood outside the police station, threatening them not to report the incident. “Even the police constable said do not write rape in the complaint but mention attempt to rape. There was so much pressure that we cracked. The caste panchayat members offered to call off the social boycott if we did not register a case and paid them Rs 20 lakh,” the 20-year-old victim told The Indian Express.
A case of attempt to rape was registered on August 17. “The next day when the police came to investigate, they asked for Rs 3,000 to hire a vehicle to conduct the inquiry. We obliged because we were desperate for help. Police constable Kalla Ram said he will come back but did not show up for the next three days. So we approached the superintendent of police, who finally registered a case of rape and promised us speedy action,” the victim added.
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Barmer SP Hemant Sharma denied the allegations and maintained that the victims’ did not make any such complaint before him. “If there is any truth in the allegations, we will investigate it and take due action.”
In severe pain, the girls have been unable to make the long trek to school but insist they will soon go back to finish Class XII. Their mother, who rears cattle, is yet to be told about the incident as they fear she will not be able to bear the shock.
“We have fallen on very bad times. First our siblings were arrested for murder, then our marriages fell apart and now this,” the older sister said.
The caste panchayat comprising senior members of the dominant Jat community had decreed that the family be ostracised after it was alleged that their older siblings had killed their school-going cousin when he found them in a comprising position.