Updated: September 26, 2020 7:40:35 am
SHE keeps thinking about the morning of September 14, about going with her daughter to a field nearby to cut grass for their cows, about the desperate search on realising she was missing, about finding her battered and bleeding just 100 metres away, about hailing an e-rickshaw to rush the 19-year-old to a district hospital, and about other questions that have been nagging her: what if she could hear better so that she could have responded to her daughter’s screams, what if they were not Dalits.
It’s been 11 days and the 19-year-old, whose tongue was cut off and spinal cord severely injured, is on a ventilator at a hospital in Aligarh and fighting for her life. Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir said she has severe injuries on her neck as well.
Four upper caste men of the woman’s village in Hathras district have been charged with gangrape and attempt to murder, apart from under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Three have been arrested. The woman gave a statement to the police on Wednesday.
The initial medical report by the hospital has confirmed strangulation and assault. Doctors said further examination is being conducted to confirm rape.
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“I was sitting 100 metres from her. I could have saved her. I wish I wasn’t hard of hearing,” cries the mother, sitting outside their home.
The family says the main accused, 20-year-old Sandeep, and his family, who live nearby, have “always harassed Dalits in their area”. Nearly two decades ago, Sandeep’s grandfather had been booked under the SC/ST Act and served three months in prison for allegedly thrashing the victim’s grandfather over a petty issue.
Of the 600-odd families in the village, nearly half are Thakur, say district officials, while Brahmins make up another 100. Only 15-odd families are Dalit.
The morning of September 14, three of them had gone to collect fodder, but the woman had sent her son away. “Around 9:45 am, I turned around and saw my daughter wasn’t there. I thought she had gone home but then I saw her pink slippers. We searched for some time and then found her near a tree.”
The 19-year-old was lying in a pool of blood, which oozed out of her mouth and neck and eyes. The family says her dupatta was tied around her neck. The district hospital where they took her told them that she needed to be shifted to Aligarh.
According to the family, the woman told them “Sandeep ne kiya (Sandeep did this to me)”.
The woman’s brother, who works as a labourer, filed a complaint against Sandeep. While the 20-year-old, his uncle Ravi and his friend Luv Kush have been arrested, a fourth accused, Ramu, is absconding.
The brother says the incident of 19 years ago had left rancour between the families, “but nothing ever happened”. “They are upper castes and have always called us names. We ignore them. Sandeep is an alcoholic who harasses women, but nobody ever files a complaint.”
The mother says that after the incident, the woman had told them Sandeep and Ravi had threatened her earlier as well. Crying that she wished her daughter had told them earlier, she says, “They had tried to abduct her but she ran away… She told the police she was afraid to step out of the house as Sandeep would harass her. I wish I knew. It’s too late now, I just hope she survives.”
One of the doctors treating her said, “Due to the damaged spinal cord, the victim has quadriplegia (paralysis in all four limbs) and is not able to breathe properly.”
SP Vir said: “We are trying to help the family and want to take strict action against the men. Three of the four accused have been arrested and our teams are looking for the one absconding. The woman is critical and wasn’t able to give a proper statement earlier. An FIR was registered by her brother. We have now recorded her statement with the help of a woman constable.”
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