A strange and uneasy silence hangs over the large single-storey pucca house in Sonas village under Khijarsarai police station in Gaya. Five girls of the house,all minors,were shot dead on the night of December 4-5 as they slept here,in separate rooms. There are few credible answers as to why the girls were alone,sleeping separately,or killed despite the police naming the father of two of the girls as an accused and none whatsoever that is coming from the house that has shut its doors to shocked outsiders.
The two other brothers,who also lost daughters in the attack,fend off queries. Bharat Bhushan Singh,the middle brother,hushes his father as he gestures angrily to convey something. The grandfather of the girls,retired Armyman Pavitra Narain Singh,is hard of hearing and walks with the help of a stick. Neighbours say the 75-year-old is in a state of shock. He loved his granddaughters very much and would often get them toffees, said one neighbour who refused to be identified.
A week after the killings,the shared house with three separate kitchens for the three families is undergoing a thorough cleaning. The five other children of the house,all boys,go about their routines in normal course. The women stay inside,not allowed to meet or talk to anybody.
Julie (16),Manisha (15),Sweety (14),Reshma (11) and Amisha (8) were shot in the same manner,in the head. According to police,Pavitras youngest son Bipin Singh killed them to pin the blame on fellow villagers Navin Singh and Anant Singh,with whom he had a land dispute. They also claim that the prospect of the heavy wedding expenses likely in the case of own daughters,Manisha and Amisha,also prompted him.
Officials say Bharat and eldest brother Shashi have confessed that Bipin had told them he would do something that would send Navin and Ananth to the gallows,and claimed that Bipin didnt tell them how exactly he would do this. Police havent yet given Bharat and Shashi a clean chit. Of the three other girls killed,while Julie was the daughter of Shashi,Bharat was the father of Sweety and Reshma. Bipin is on the run. Now the only surviving daughter among the three brothers is Shashis daughter Priyanka,who got married last year.
Says Nimchak Bathani Deputy Superintendent of Police Ali Ansari: There are no signs of outsider entry to the house. There was no alarm,no sign of attack or resistance. It is definitely an insiders job.
With the police naming Bipin as the main accused,villagers talk about him being capable of stooping to any level to make money. A graduate and a small-time money lender,he wielded the maximum clout among the brothers. While Bharat is a matriculate,Shashi dropped out before Class X.
Bipin was also the most well off,running a coaching centre in Khijarsarai town,which is located 7 km from the village. Shashi plies a vehicle,earning Rs 300 per day on an average. Bharat looks after cultivation on the familys common 10 bigha land,as well as runs a small provisions store. Pavitras monthly pension of Rs 10,000 is a great help to the family.
While cellphone records have established that Bipin was present at the house that night,the DSP admits they still dont have the whole story. The case has more to it than the designs of Bipin,who had primarily plotted to frame his rivals and get back possession over land. He had,in fact,paid for two katha (2,722 sq ft) land and manipulated to get registered 13 kathas of one Shambhu Singh. It is primarily Bipins greed that led him to make the plan. Police are waiting for an opportune time to question the mothers as well.
Showing the room where Sweety was killed in her bed,Bharat says that while they were great friends,the girls slept in separate rooms even the sisters as apparently the beds were too small. Sweetys school textbooks lie scattered around her room,with police and visitors having flipped through them. Bharat shows one with her name on it.
Bharat has no answers as to why the family left the five girls at home alone that night,even as the other members moved to safety reportedly fearing an attack by Navin and Ananth. The theory of future dowry expenses prompting the killings is dismissed by the neighbours,who ask why and why now.
Neither Bharat nor the others are willing to talk more about the five girls. What will I do with these memories? They are gone now. It is no use telling and re-telling their stories, he says. Pressed,he adds: Please go to their school. We have a lot of work to do and have to clean the house.
The signs of mourning strangely absent at the house,in fact,hang over the school. A minutes silence was maintained for the five everyday at the school till their shraddh on December 11.
Showing off her writing proudly,Principal Ramashish Prasad says Manisha was the brightest of the five cousins and would deliver the speech in English at all Republic Day and Independence Day events.
Prasad even remembers seeing Manisha on the day she died. On December 4,when she came to the school,she requested me to give them bicycles under Chief Minister Nitish Kumars bicycle scheme. She told me to write her down as my daughter if it could get her the bicycle faster, he smiles,adding,I would have been happy to make her my daughter. She had over 75 per cent attendance and had qualified to get the bicycle. It breaks my heart to strike down the names of Manisha and Sweety from the list of Class IX girls eligible for getting the bicycles.
Classes IX and X study together in one classroom,and Julie,who was in Class X,shared it with Manisha and Sweety. Dolly Kumari,a friend of both Manisha and Julie,says: Ever since their killings,we feel uneasy at school. It seems they are around us,talking to us,joking with us and also wanting to know why they were killed.
Ruby,a Class X student,recalls racing down village roads with Julie on the bicycles the two of them got last year. We were also excited about getting Rs 1,000 each for a new school dress, she says.
Dolly says Manisha was very good at math and English and loved to play carrom,while Sweety was very hardworking and had over 90 per cent attendance in school. We would often wonder if we would be able to go to college in Gaya,28 km from Sonas. Most girls stop studying after Class X as there is no college nearby, she says,before breaking off.
Kosham,a friend of Sweety and Manisha,says the cousins always talked about pursuing studies like their brothers.
Reshma,a student of Class VIII,and Amisha,who studied in Class V,were also regulars at school. As their home is barely 150 yards from the school,they would go home for food during break and at times get mango pickles for their classmates.
Says teacher Prince Kumar,There was a healthy competition among them to come regularly to school.
Students talk of a dip in attendance since that night. Those who come too cannot escape one of the most gruesome incidents to happen in their midst,with police currently scouring a nearby pond for the murder weapon. The pond is just outside the girls home. A village well is also being searched.
Says S K Singh,Bipins cousin: We hate him. He has brought the family and village a bad name. The road to Sonas village is now known to even small children. The tag of the family that killed its five daughters will stick for a long time.
At their Sonas house though,the signs of the life the girls lived are already fading,except for an impressive five-storey mudhouse built by them near the main entrance to welcome Goddess Lakshmi at the time of Diwali. Next to it are scribbled the names of the five boys of the house. Below are the names of the five girls now dead,with Manisha already slightly obliterated.