At around 9 am on October 15, an over-eight-months pregnant Savitri Devi, like most days, was collecting garbage from homes in Khetalpur Bhansoli village in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh. While she was at one of the homes, a rickshaw caused her to lose balance and ‘touch’ a bucket belonging to Anju, an upper caste Thakur.
“Anju stormed towards her, punched her repeatedly in the stomach and banged her head on a wall. She kept accusing Savitri of defiling her bucket by touching it. Later, Anju’s son Rohit also joined in and beat her with sticks,” said Kusuma Devi (46), Savitri’s neighbour who claims she witnessed the “assault”.
Six days later, both Savitri, a Dalit, and her unborn ‘son’ were dead. The post mortem report stated “antemortem head injury” as the cause of her death. Her “fully-developed 44 cm male foetus” was dead too, the report added. “Her nine-year-old daughter, Manisha, was accompanying her that day and came running to the (Dalit) basti to ask for help. When I and a few other women reached the spot, barely 300 metres away, she was still being thrashed by the mother and son. It took us a while to pull them away,” Kusuma, a daily wager, recalled.
Savitri earned Rs 100 a month from collecting garbage from five upper caste homes; Anju’s was not one of them. Dilip Kumar (30), Savitri’s husband, said: “I took her to the district hospital the same day, but they refused to see her. There was no external bleeding and they said she was fine. I took her home and asked her to rest, but she kept complaining of severe headache and stomach pain. Later, I visited Anju to ask her why she beat up my wife, but the family abused and threatened me. Finally, on October 18, I went to the Kotwali (rural) police station to file a complaint. My wife was in too much pain and I had to take some action.”
He has two daughters aged 9 and 6 from his first marriage. “My first wife died of malaria. I already have two daughters, we were hoping for a son this time,” said Kumar, who works as a daily wager at nearby construction sites. He earns Rs 250 per day. “Now, I have lost my wife and son… There has been no arrest, no action so far. I don’t know what to do,” he said over the phone from Meerut, where he had gone to “meet a police officer”.
Tapeshwar Sagar, SHO, Kotwali (rural) police station, said: “When Kumar approached us on October 18 with his wife, we ordered for a medico-legal test on her. The results claimed ‘No injury’. It was only an external examination and there were no wounds, and the results claimed no injury, so we did not file a case then. Later, on October 20, when we visited the village and spoke to the eyewitnesses, we realised that Savitri was assaulted by Anju and her son and so, registered an FIR under IPC sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace).”
On October 21, Savitri’s condition worsened and she fainted. Kumar called for an ambulance to take her to the hospital. When she reached the hospital, she was declared brought dead. Superintendent of Police Pramod Kumar said: “Since the post mortem says that a head injury caused her death, we have now added IPC sections 304 A (death by negligence), 316 (causing the death of the unborn child by act amounting to culpable homicide) and provisions of SC/ST Act on Anju and her son. We hope to arrest Anju and her son soon.”
Both Anju and her son Rohit have been on the run since October 18. Not many from the upper caste households in Khetalpur Bhansoli are willing to speak. The ground floor of Anju’s three-storey house is locked. Her daughter Jyoti, who has been temporarily living with the family, is the only one at home. “I have had a fight with my in-laws and have been living here for a few months. I don’t know where my parents or brothers (two others, apart from Rohit) are,” she said.
“My mother had loaned the bucket to a neighbour. When she came out of the house on the morning of October 15, she saw Savitri holding it and lost her cool. She thought Savitri was stealing it. There was a fight but no one beat her up. We are being framed,” the 24-year-old said, adding, “The relationship between the Thakurs and Dalits in the village is not very good. This incident has given them a chance to target us,” she said.
Of the 3,313 residents of Khetalpur Bhansoli village (2011 Census), locals say, at least 30 per cent are Dalits. Mahesh Kumar (45), a Dalit, admits to frequent fights with upper castes in the village. “Thoda-bohot halla toh hota hee rehta tha (a few quarrels keep happening). But this time they have crossed the line. They continue to threaten us,” the daily wager said.
At Savitri’s house – a crumbling single-storey structure – a clothesline holds her saris and her daughters’ frocks. Several unwashed utensils lie around. Her-six-year-old daughter, Preeti, sits in a corner with a plastic bag full of documents and family photographs. Pulling out a gas cylinder document, that has Savitri’s passport size photograph, she says, “Mummy”.
“She thinks her mother, father and sister are at the hospital. We have tried to tell her that her mother is dead, but she does not understand. She continues to laugh and play,” said Kusuma, asking Preeti to keep the bag inside safely. The Class 1 student ignores her neighbour. She leaves the bag in the verandah, clutches her friend’s hand and runs out of the house to play.