July 19, 2016 10:28:21 am
FAMILY members of the 14-year-old girl who was brutally raped and murdered in Kopardi village are finding it hard to come to terms with reality. The father, a farmer, had to be hospitalised after his health deteriorated. The mother is refusing to see anyone. The brother, an 18-year-old collegian, is left to face the steady stream of politicians, community leaders and well-wishers dropping in to express solidarity.
The Class IX student was assaulted by suspects from the same village on July 13 evening at her own farm, which is a stone’s throw from her house. The post-mortem confirmed that she had been raped and brutally beaten up. Her limbs had fractured, arms dislocated from shoulders, and the body had human bite marks all over.
Police said she was killed by strangulation. The place of crime was also just a few yards away from her grandparents’ house from where she was returning home when the assailants stopped her. Both houses are a few steps away from each other. In fact, the police said, hours after she left her house to go to her grandparents’, a cousin spotted her body allegedly being taken away by one of the three arrested suspects.
The three arrested suspects who belong to the same village are in police remand.
Speaking to The Indian Express, the victim’s brother said the family was at a loss to understand what could have brought this calamity on them.
“These men who did this had nothing against us. Actually, I personally had good relations with them. There is no enmity between the two communities either. In fact, three months back, I saved them when some goons from Shrigonda had come looking for them. Earlier, on the same day (July 13), they had molested another girl in a nearby village but she didn’t raise an alarm. Had she informed people, they wouldn’t have emboldened to commit this act,” said the boy, a First Year BSc student in a college in Karjat town, about 16 km from Kopardi. The police said there had been no report of the accused molesting any other woman on that day.
The brother refuses to believe the reported statement by chief accused Jitendra alias Pappu Shinde (25) that he alone was involved in the gruesome act while the two other had been wrongly arrested.
“My sister was a strong girl. She was a kabaddi player. It’s impossible that a person like Pappu Shinde can overpower her alone. Also, the way it was done. So many bites on her body, hair pulled off and broken limbs, it can’t be the work of a single man; let alone Shinde, who is a frail drunkard. When my cousin saw him, he was carrying the body in his hands, while the clothes were thrown a 100 feet away. His bike was at a third location nearby. This shows there were many people and not just one,” he argued.
On that dark evening, the brother recalled, he got a call from his house telling him that his youngest sister had been eve-teased by some boys in the village. “I wasn’t told that she was no more. I was at Karjat where I study. I left immediately and upon reaching found what actually had happened. Later, I got to know that my cousin, who was sent out by my mother to look for her as she had not returned for quite some time, located her bicycle by the dirt road. Intrigued, he looked around and saw Shinde walking away from the road carrying my sister’s body. When he noticed my cousin, Shinde dropped the body and ran towards his house. My cousin chased him until he hid in the house. The cousin returned as he was alone,” said the boy. Others in the village said the three suspects had consumed country liquor at a joint owned by the victim’s grandfather. Police have confirmed this detail.
Shinde who had fled Kopardi was arrested from a neighbouring village late in the night. Based on information provided by him, two more suspects Santosh Bhawal (36) and Nitin Bhailume (26) were nabbed from Shrigonda and Pune, respectively.
According to the police, there were these three suspects in all and that their investigation is almost complete.
“There were three accused and all have been arrested. Our focus is now on tackling the situation that is caused by repeated morchas and road blockades. A lot of rumour mongering is going on to keep the issue burning and we are clarifying again and again. The investigation has been handed over to the Crime Branch and they are collecting the evidence and other things. The autopsy report confirmed that the death was caused by shock and asphyxia so the reports of beheading and amputations are baseless,” Superintendent of Police (Ahmednagar) Saurabh Tripathi told The Indian Express. He, however, described the crime as a “very violent one”.
The crime has caused quite a stir in Ahmednagar district, especially among members of the Maratha community. The victim belonged to a Maratha family while the alleged perpetrators belonged to Mahar caste, a Dalit community. In the last few years, Ahmednagar has been in news for “anti-Dalit crimes” with the suspects belonging to the Maratha community. These include murder of a 17-year-old Dalit boy at Kharda in Jamkhed tehsil in April 2014 over an alleged love affair with a Maratha girl. In January 2013, three men of a family in Sonai village were murdered by a mob of upper caste men over an alleged love affair involving one of the boys. In October 2014, three members of a Dalit family were murdered at Javkheda in Ahmednagar district. Initially, the police had suspected members of an upper caste community of the village in that crime, but two relatives of the family were arrested later.
Social organisations and leaders claiming to espouse the cause of Maratha community are looking for “same kind of outrage and swift action” from the government, and political and social leaders “as they showed in case of Kharda, Khairlanji, Sonai and Javkheda”. Several protests and bandhs have been observed across Ahmednagar district to demand strict action in the case. Most of these were led by organisations such as Sambhaji Brigade and Maratha Seva Sangh.
“Why is this double standard? When crimes like Khairlanji and Javkheda happen, everybody rushes to demand a fast-track court and compensation for the victim family. Now, when a girl of Maratha community has been violated and brutally killed, why these people who were outraged then are sitting silent? Shouldn’t there be the same rule for everyone,” asked Shantaram Kunjir of Maratha Seva Sangh during a protest demonstration outside the district collector’s office in Ahmednagar.
Others like Swati Pansare, daughter of slain communist leader Govind Pansare, feel that this politicisation of the crime would take the debate in a wrong direction.
“The issue is not community specific. The crime in Kopardi is a crime against a woman and should be seen like that. Those trying to give it a caste colour are trying to score politically. Notwithstanding the caste and creed, those behind such gruesome crime should be punished severely,” said Pansare.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines