As a TV reporter — the seventh since morning — approached the Rohtak sisters for an interview, the younger one signalled him to stop. The duo then took a quick break to gulp down some water. In a corner, their brother-in-law held a list of time slots allotted to the news channels that had reached their house in Kharkhauda on Monday after a video of the two thrashing their alleged harassers aboard a Haryana Roadways bus went viral.
In Aasan village, 27km away, a deathly silence hung outside the house of Kuldeep, who was arrested late on Sunday along with the two other youth shown in the video. On the gate, his name was etched on black granite while on the walls nearby, brightly painted advertisements touted coaching classes for Army and Navy recruitment tests.
The two villages told two different stories – while the girls stated that they had been “physically assaulted” and “molested”, the accused countered that they were acting in “self-defence”.
In between was a twist: there is still no trace of a pregnant woman who allegedly took the video, and who the girls claimed they were speaking up for when the fight broke out, and another old woman who the accused said they were fighting for.
But first, this is what Aarti, 22, and Puja, 19, had to say.
According to the two BCA students of IC Women’s Government College in Rohtak, 45 km away, they were waiting at the bus stop there, when two men — Mohit alias Monu and Kuldeep Singh — allegedly started eve-teasing them.
Aarti said that they threw chits of paper with mobile numbers scribbled on them towards the girls. “When we opposed, they started passing lewd comments. Our bus came at about 1 pm and we boarded it. The boys also hopped on,” she said. Then, after they sat down, Aarti claimed, the two started making fun of them, saying the girls were “not fit to sit on the seats” and should rather occupy the floor.
As a war of words ensued, Pooja said the boys called up a friend from their mobile – now identified as Deepak Hooda – who got onboard en-route, from Bahlot. “Now that there were three of them, and with nobody in the bus preventing them, the boys started making obscene gestures,” she said.
The girls alleged that the pregnant woman, who was the only one on the bus to object to the youths’ actions, was also harassed. “The boys told her, ‘Hum inko nahin chedenge toh tumhe chedenge (If we don’t tease them, we will tease you)’. We told the boys to leave the woman alone but they kept misbehaving with her. Aarti got angry and pushed Kuldeep. He started slapping and manhandling her. I was angry and also scared that they might hurt my sister. So, I started beating them up with my belt,” Pooja said.
The girls added that when the bus slowed down near a speed-breaker, the youths threw them out. While Pooja landed on a stretch of dirt and escaped unhurt, Aarti fell on the road and sustained minor injuries on her back.
Now, the other version, according to relatives of the accused — all the three are 19-year-olds pursuing a BA degree from Jat College in Rohtak.
Kuldeep’s father, Balbir Singh, said his son reached the bus stop at 1 pm when an old woman requested him to get her a ticket as she was not feeling well. When the bus arrived, the woman found the two girls occupying the seat she had been allotted on the ticket. “They started arguing, so my son and his friends intervened and told the girls they should allow the woman to be seated. At this, one of the girls hit him on the leg while the other took out her belt. When the boys retaliated, they made videos of it,” Singh said.
Deepak’s father, Shripal, claimed his son was not involved in the incident at all. According to him, the youths had appeared for an exam from 9.30 am till 12.30 pm. He said that Deepak later went to a hospital to get his ears tested and that he had boarded a bus to go home but got down at Bahlot village, 10 km from Rohtak, to buy ghee. “On his way back, he boarded the bus on which the girls as well as the two other boys were travelling. When he saw Kuldeep and Mohit, he waved to them as they are all classmates. The girls already had had an altercation with the two others. So, they thought Deepak was waving to them and started arguing with him,” he said.
And finally, the police story.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Shashank Anand, SP, Rohtak, said the police first received a call from the girls at 1.25 pm on Friday. “The girls first called the women’s helpline number 1091. An operator answered but the call could not be completed. So, the girls called on the police number 100. Both are emergency numbers and the police control room alerted the local police immediately. They reached Kansala chowki, where the girls’ father had arrived. Based on their statement, we registered a case against the three youths for outraging modesty and voluntarily causing hurt under IPC sections 354, 323 and 34.”
Anand said the accused had no prior cases against them. “In this case, the evidence suggests that the accused did manhandle the girls. We immediately alerted the Indian Army also about the case as two of the accused – Kuldeep and Deepak – have recently cleared the preliminary exams for the post of jawan.”
The story of contrasts, meanwhile, also played out Monday on the faces of the parents of the two sides.
As relatives and neighbours rushed in and out of their home, congratulating them for being the parents of “such bold daughters”, Santosh (42) and her husband Rajesh (45), who works with the State Electricity Board, beamed with pride.
Stressing that the girls had struggled a lot to pursue their education, having to walk 5 km to the nearest bus stand every day, Santosh said, “They went first to Jharot to complete schooling and later to Rohtak for higher studies. Our eldest daughter could not study after school and got married. But we want these two to study and have no objection if they wish to work.” The couple also has a 15-year-old son.
Inside Kuldeep’s house, his mother Shakuntala struck a bitter note.
“After the police came, we thought it’s about his (Kuldeep’s) life after all, so apologising would not make us small,” she said. “So, we went to meet the girls and told their family to beat up our boys as much as they wanted to, but withdraw the case. They responded by saying that we should bring the three boys to their village where first the girls, then their family and finally the villagers would beat them. Only then, they said, they would forgive the boys.”