The young woman speaks very little Hindi. But the one word she uses often in conversations, interspersed between long anguished sentences in Gondi, is “agar”. If. “If my sister’s cycle didn’t have a puncture… If my father had gone to drop her to school that day… If my sister had not been unwell… If she had not been raped and killed, you would not have come…”
On July 21, her 16-year-old sister was raped and killed, allegedly by a man from the same village. Police say the accused, a 17-year-old, was involved in a land dispute with the victim’s father.
That morning, at 9 am, the 16-year-old, one of six siblings, had left home to walk the 3 km between her village and the government school in one of the most Naxal-affected areas of Bastar’s Kondagaon district. Three days before she was raped and killed, she had wheeled her cycle back home, its rear tyre punctured. The first two days after the puncture, her father had dropped her to school and brought her back. That Thursday, he had left for the fields. The rains had arrived, there was work to do, and a family of eight to feed. The girl usually returned at four or five in the evening, but when she wasn’t home even an hour later, the family grew worried. They first went to check at her school and were told she had never arrived. The family then began looking for signs of her on the road that led to the school. Around 6 pm, three metres from the road, they found her school bag.
To the left of the road, in a dense forest, is a path leading up to one of the many hills that dot the area. The family went up the path and in a clearing lay the girl’s body. Her school uniform was torn and there were scratches all over her torso. From the spot where her body lay were thick lines in the moist mud. Up the hill, another 200 metres away, is a smaller clearing where the marks on the ground ended. Here, there was blood, as well as other signs. Torn wrappers of Manforce tablets and a tube of Fevikwik.
Even before her death, the girl’s family had faced trouble in the village. Theirs was a family ostracized. As she sat with the rest of her family in the yard outside their hut, the girl’s mother says the community began distancing themselves from them a year ago.
“Twenty years ago, I had fallen ill with sickling (sickle cell anaemia) and nothing could cure me. So my husband took me to a pastor in Narayanpur and I became better. We began believing in Christianity. The people of the village didn’t like it, but said nothing. But then last year, it became worse,” she says. She falls silent and her 14-year-old son continues, “Last year, my sister also had sickle cell anaemia and we took her to the same pastor. She was getting better but was still weak. Every year, there is a tradition where the Adivasis offer rice to their gods. Last year, after we took my sister to the pastor, they refused our rice, and since then, there has been no contact with the rest of the village.”
On Saturday, a week after her death, the Kondagaon police arrested the 17-year-old accused of raping and killing the girl. “We first zeroed in on the accused after we spoke to her schoolmates. Two girls, who often walked with her to school, told us the accused had told them to stop walking with her. He told them that since she was Christian, she often has fits, and if they walked with her, they would get them too. So they stopped walking with her, and he caught her alone,” says Santosh Singh, Kondagaon Superintendent of Police.
Singh says that the accused had a rift with the girl’s father over a piece of land and had allegedly been planning, since June, to kill him. “But when he couldn’t carry out the killing, he grew increasingly frustrated and turned his attention to the girl. Three days before he raped her, he travelled to Kondagaon district headquarters (40 km away) and bought five Manforce tablets. We confirmed this with the shopkeeper in Kondagaon. On July 21, he lay in wait. He told investigators that he muffled her mouth and dragged her up the hill, where he choked her. The post-mortem confirmed he had raped her. He even tried to apply Fevikwik to her mouth to prevent her from screaming. He used a gamcha to throttle her, carried her body back down and dumped it in the clearing where it was discovered,” says Singh. A case of rape, murder and sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act have been added, with the accused now to be produced before the juvenile board.
Back in the village, the house of the 17-year-old is deserted. Villagers say they don’t know where the family is and when they will come back.
In their hut in Jatarbeda, the girl’s family finds it hard to believe that only one person could have carried out such a heinous crime. Yet, they are glad that “at least someone” has been arrested. “This man (the accused) had just begun fighting with our family over our land. Our fields, just outside the village, are next to each other. One day, this boy began saying we were encroaching on his land and there were some arguments, but we never thought something like this would happen,” says the girl’s sister.
Clear the accused should receive severe punishment, they can’t decide what would serve justice as per them. One says that “insects should plague them for generations” while another wants capital punishment.
The girl’s sister has the final word — with an ominous “agar” at the end of it. “Whatever happens, the law must not let him out of jail. If he comes out, there is no telling what will happen,” she says.