Unaware of the tension inside Ram Gulam’s house, Sultan grazes in the backyard under a hot summer sun. The white horse, with patches of black, is the sole witness of the April 23 assault on Sitaram Valmiki, Gulam’s 43-year-old son, allegedly by four upper caste Thakurs of Badaun’s Azampur Bisauriya.
A week later, on Tuesday, the family of 13 sat in grim silence — they have not been able to find Sitaram since morning.
An agricultural labourer, Sitaram had Sultan in tow when he had gone to harvest wheat on the family’s 10-bigha land on April 23, said his wife Jaimala.
According to the family, around 5pm, Vijay Singh, Pinku Singh, Shailendra Singh and Vikram Singh — Thakurs from the village — had approached Sitaram and asked him to harvest their 20-bigha land first. Sitaram had refused, saying he was unwell, they said.
“Enraged by his refusal, the Thakurs started beating Sitaram while hurling casteist slurs. They dragged him to the chaupal of the village, tied him to a neem tree, ripped his moustache and also forced him to drink urine,” Jaimala said.
Jaimala claimed she and her son Pramod (14) pleaded with folded hands to spare Sitaram, but the Thakurs would have none of it. They kept saying “…inka hai kaun, sarkar humari hai (whose backing do they have, the government is ours),” said Jaimala.
A desperate Jaimala called the Police Helpline 100.
“A team of police came and freed Sitaram and dispersed the Thakurs. Later that night, our house was attacked again. We called the police helpline again. This time police booked Sitaram and Vijay Singh under Section 151 CrPC (arrest to prevent the commission of cognizable offences),” said Anbir Valmiki, younger brother of Sitaram.
After spending the night in custody, Sitaram was released on bail the next day. Ram Gulam claimed the police had thrashed his son too.
SSP Badaun, Ashok Kumar Sharma said the four accused, who were arrested Monday, have been sent to 14-day judicial custody and the then SHO of the Hazratpur police station has been suspended for not “acting swiftly” on April 23. The FIR was registered on April 29. A posse of police personnel has been deputed outside Sitaram’s house.
Sharma said the Thakurs claimed that Sitaram had taken Rs 6,000 as advance from the family of the accused to harvest their crops.
Family of the accused made no such claim to The Indian Express, which visited the village on Tuesday.
“Usually, the arrangement in the village during the harvest season is that one is paid 40 kg wheat per bigha for cutting crops. Sitaram was also promised the same, but he refused and became aggressive,” Vikas Kumar Singh, brother of one of the accused, said.
On Tuesday, as Sitaram remained “missing”, his family claimed they had no knowledge of his whereabouts.
“They humiliated him a lot. If we are guilty, let nature punish us, if they are guilty, let them be punished,” said Sitaram’s mother Kanti Devi.
The 15-odd Valmiki families that live in the rear of the village also claim that at the heart of the dispute was the Thakur resentment to growing assertiveness of the community youth. “The constant humiliation is nothing new. What’s new is the fact that today’s youth do not take these things lying down,” said Jadulal, an elderly villager.
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