It was a quiet Diwali for a 15-year-old Dalit girl in a Bulandshahr village. Her family repeatedly asked her whether something was wrong, but she assured them that she would be fine.
It had been three months since she had been allegedly raped by a local man, and just before Diwali had begun receiving threats from some acquaintances of the accused to withdraw her complaint, according to her family. Three days later—on Tuesday—she was set on fire by seven people, allegedly known to the rape accused, at her home.
She died later the same day, at a hospital in Delhi.
“The festival was upon us but her spirits were down. We asked what was bothering her but she never told us,” her brother said. He said they later learnt that she was being threatened to change her rape complaint.
In August, the victim was allegedly raped in a guava orchard, close to the 2-bigha plot of land the family owns. The family, villagers and police later found her in a drugged state. The accused in the rape case was arrested and is currently in prison, awaiting trial.
The legal recourse that followed the crime has left the family of eight in dire straits. Their lone source of income was sale of produce cultivated on the small piece of land they own. During the lockdown, sales nosedived and opportunities for other daily-wage work also vanished.
They had to take a loan, with interest incurring every day, one of the victim’s brothers said.
The brother said he, along with another sibling, dropped out of school. “We asked her to continue and said we will arrange for her schooling. But she also withdrew,” he said. “All we wanted was to ensure the best for her.”
Before Diwali, several relatives had come home. Around 8.30 am Tuesday, the relatives had gone out while her father and brothers were working in the field. The girl was helping her mother in the kitchen. Before anyone could react, three people scaled the wall, poured petrol on her, and set her on fire, the family said. The family took her to hospital, where, according to the brother, she named the accused.
Five of seven people named in the FIR have been arrested. The prime accused are on the run.
Bulandshahr SSP Santosh Kumar Singh said: “We are making all possible efforts to catch the absconding accused. In general, there is peace in the village.”
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