There is a large pile of books in a corner of her home. But, they don’t belong to the 15-year-old Dalit student who was set ablaze in Agra a week ago by two motorcycle-borne men near her village. “She was coming back from school that day… They burnt her school bag and books too,” says her mother, staring at her daughter’s name scribbled on a wall. “These books belong to her sister.”
Five days after the girl died at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, Agra Police Monday arrested two men for the murder. The police also claim her 25-year-old cousin was the “mastermind” behind her killing — he later committed suicide.
The two men arrested — both carpenters — allegedly helped the cousin kill the girl around 1.30 pm on December 18 while she was cycling back home.
Hours after the Class X student’s death on December 20, her cousin committed suicide by consuming poison at his two-room house in the same village. The two men arrested are her cousin’s relatives, said police. “Her cousin liked her, but she had been rejecting his advances. He wanted to teach her a lesson and so he colluded with his relatives to kill her. It was a meticulously planned murder. The two men arrested have admitted to it,” says Amit Pathak, SSP, Agra.
According to police, her cousin wore a helmet to cover his face and had gloves on when he poured petrol over the girl and set her aflame. One of the two men arrested was with him on the motorcycle and the other patrolled the area on another bike to keep watch, police said adding that her cousin had promised both men Rs 15,000.
The police statement says “letters written by her cousin, WhatsApp chats, and a picture of the victim at the site of the crime on his phone from a few days ago” helped crack the case.
At the girl’s village, her mother struggles to respond to questions. “I am not sure why she was killed. Maybe someone was jealous of her… we are educating all our children, many people did not like that,” she says, looking away from the cameras.
The girl was the second of five children and the family lives in the Jatav section of the village. Of the nearly 2,000 residents of the village, about 200 are Dalits — Jats form the majority. On a shelf in the room, framed photographs of the girl lie amid rolled-up clothes. In one picture, she has her hair in a braid; in another, taken at a temple, she is wearing a ‘jai mata di’ bandana around her head. Nearby, there is a trophy that she won in a “skill” competition.
“Sarkar bolti hai Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, par yahan hamari betiyan heen asurakshit hain (The government slogan is ‘protect your daughters, educate your daughters’ but it’s our daughters who are not safe here),” says the girl’s elder sister.
The family does not buy the police’s theory that her cousin killed her. “They were brother and sister. They are being linked to bury the case,” says the sister. “One can never tell what’s happening in the lives of our children. We don’t know what our sons are up to,” the mother adds. The girl’s father is away to meet the police and works at a shoe factory in Agra city earning Rs 10,000 a month.
A few doors away is the home of her cousin and alleged killer. “You can ask the entire village. He was a good boy. He had completed his BEd and was doing a part-time job. The police held him for two days. When he came home on December 20, he told me the police hit him with lathis on his stomach. They have accused him of such a terrible crime, he committed suicide out of shame,” his mother says, pulling out a picture of her son, the second of her three sons.
“My eldest brother died a few years ago in a train accident. I am the only one left now. My father is a daily wager. We have to live with this shame now… We have no money to sustain ourselves,” says his 22-year-old brother. In the last few days, politicians and activists have visited the girl’s family, including Uttar Pradesh Deputy CM Dinesh Sharma, who promised compensation of Rs 5 lakh. Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, who visited the family, threatened on Twitter to “shut the country down” if the attackers weren’t arrested.
The girl’s family and residents of the village, however, have dismissed any caste angle to the crime. “If this was related to caste, there would have been riots. But there is complete peace. It’s the outsiders – politicians and activists – who are giving this a caste colour,” claims Rajpal Singh, 35, a Jat farmer.
The incident, however, has had one fallout in the village — the girls have stopped going to school. “At least 40 girls went to the same school as the girl, they are all scared to step out now. But it will all get normal soon,” says Singh.