A PAIR of slippers, a beauty parlour kit, some t-shirts and a cellphone. These are all that’s left with Meera of her 13-year-old daughter who drowned in the village pond during a police raid on a brothel at Panchi Ka Nagla in Bharatpur off the Agra highway.
Three days on, 40-year-old Meera says her daughter’s words still echo in her ears: “Mai, accha kaam karna chahti hun. Mujhe yahan nahin rehna (I want to do good job. I don’t want to live here).”
According to Bharatpur police, Meera’s daughter and her 11-year-old cousin, who was still in her uniform after returning from school, jumped into the pond to “avoid detention” during the raid at around 4 pm on March 21. Both were from the dominant Beria community in the village.
But Meera, the 11-year-old’s father Lakhan, and other villagers allege that the girls were beaten by policemen. Another girl, a nine-year-old, who jumped into the pond with the two girls but survived, alleged that police threw them in. “Hume bacha lo (Save us),” she cried, as another villager held her close.
On Friday, Lakhan was observing ‘Teeja’ for his daughter who was cremated on the road nearby as the community is not allowed to perform the last rites in Hindu crematoriums.
“They targeted the girls and abused them. A few who resisted were beaten while some ran fearing arrest. My daughter was trying to hide but she was thrown in the pond after being thrashed. There was blood coming from their ears and they had black marks on their bodies. Does this happen in drowning?” he asked.
“After studying here till Class V, my daughter was living with her grandmother in Mumbai and undergoing training to work in a beauty parlour. She was here for Holi and was about to leave on Sunday,” said Meera, struggling to hold back tears.
Local activists and villagers say this is not the first time that police have raided the village, which is about 1 km from the Kalkadeo National Park, a heritage site, and has 52 households with a population of around 250 people. The last such raid happened in October 2016, said one of them.
“The police want hafta (bribe). And they want awards of bravery for rescuing minors from brothels and arresting human traffickers,” alleged Grijesh Dinkar, state coordinator, Centre For Dalit Rights, who visited the village on Friday.
When contacted, Bharatpur SP, Kailash Chandra, denied the allegations.
“Our intention was merely to crack the prostitution racket. The death of the girls is saddening but the policemen did not chase the girls into the pond. Police have booked 15 people, including nine women, for buying minor girls for prostitution and under several sections of kidnapping and slavery,” said Chandra.
Bharatpur police also said that they have rescued 26 minor girls from Panchi Ka Nagla in the last three years, all of whom are being rehabilitated at a centre run by the district’s Child Welfare Committee (CWC). More than 15 FIRs have been filed against men and women from the village since 2015, said police.
Bharatpur District Collector, N K Gupta, who handed over cheques of Rs 51,000 each to the families of the two girls who died, said he had sent a report to the Rajasthan High Court, which has taken cognizance of the matter.
“We try hard to rehabilitate these girls. From schools to workshops, everything is organised but they go back to the village. This incident is really sad and we are leaving no stone unturned in helping the families,” said Gupta.
The deaths have assumed a political colour, too. On Wednesday morning, residents of the settlement met Congress MLA from Deeg-Kumher constituency in the district, Vishvendra Singh, and sought help. Meanwhile, Bharatpur MLA, BJP’s Vijay Bansal, reached the house of the girls and demanded action against police.
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