Dhajja Ram, 78, is confused. The furrows on his forehead deepen and his eyes turn glassy with tears everytime he attempts to remember the events of two years ago.
It was his complaint that led to a court in Sonepat sentencing three of his sons, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter to life imprisonment on April 13 in an alleged case of honour killing, in Matand village in Haryana’s Sonepat district.
On July 2, 2016, Dhajja Ram’s granddaughter Sweety, 17, a BA first year student, was allegedly beaten to death by her father Balraj and mother Sudesh for being in a relationship with a boy from another village. The family was accused of later burning her body in a shed. Sweety’s uncles, Raju and Suresh, and elder sister Meena were also arrested.
On the night of the murder, at 10.20 pm, it was Dhajja Ram who complained to the police about his family. The FIR filed at Baroda Police Station, in which Dhajja Ram is the complainant, reads, “My son Balraj, along with his wife Sudesh, killed Sweety and burnt her in the bithoda (shed used to store cow dung cakes). Unhone galat kaam kiya hai, unke khilaf karyavahi ki jaye (They did wrong, there should be action against them).”
Nearly two years later, Dhajja Ram grapples with a mix of emotions — grief, regret and confusion. Sitting on a cot in the family’s run-down, two-room home, that he shares with three of his grandchildren —Sweety’s siblings — the 78-year-old struggles to count a bunch of Rs 100 notes, his veiny hands trembling. “There is no no one in the house now. Just me and the three children,” he says. “I just got this money (Rs 1,800 as old-age pension) from the post office but my eyesight is very poor and it is difficult to count the money,” he adds.
As he starts speaking about Sweety, Dhajja Ram’s tears flow freely. “Ghanni laambi arr gajab ki suthri thi (She was tall and beautiful). The entire village wanted to marry her. Every time I think of her and my family, all I feel is pain. But what can I do?” he says.
Sweety’s younger sisters study in Class 9 and 10, while her brother is in Class 5. “On most days, I prepare the meals; sometimes the children help out too… I have ensured that the children study in a private school. I pay around Rs 6,000 a month for their education. The family of Suresh (his second son who is in jail) helps with the money,” he says.
Since their arrest, says Dhajja Ram, he has visited his family in Sonepat Jail a few times, sometimes taking the children along. After the April 13 sentencing, when he again made the 45-km trip to prison, he lost his way. “I can’t see very well and got onto a wrong bus. Only when I reached Panipat did I realise my mistake,” he says, his voice slow and feeble.
The family members were not too pleased to see him, the 78-year-old adds. “My son Balraj told me, ‘You are old now, stay at home’… So I came back,” he says, tears rolling down his face again.
Struggling to remember his lawyer’s name, Dhajja Ram looks for his visiting card, his fingers fumbling through his wallet. Just then, Suresh’s wife Sunita, who lives a few houses away, turns up. Dhajja Ram puts his wallet aside and says, “Since the arrests, no one in the village speaks to me. Sabko naarazgi hai (Everyone’s angry). The children ask me, ‘What have you done?’.” Pointing towards Sunita, he adds, “Ye bhi nahin aati (She doesn’t come too).”
Sunita immediately offers a defence. “I am usually unwell. But we pay the fees of the children, don’t we?” she says.
Sunita, 45, claims the family has been a victim of conspiracy. “Sweety would often get fits. That night, after she had a seizure and died, we burnt her body. No one killed her. But our enemies in the village called the police,” she says, without naming any of the “enemies”. She agrees though that Sweety was “beautiful”. “A lot of people wanted to marry her, but we had refused. That is why they were angry with us.” Then, turning to Dhajja Ram, she says, “In fact, he was not at home the day Sweety died, he was in the fields. Tell them.”
As she glares at him, Dhajja Ram squeezes his eyes into tiny slits and responds, “Haan, nahin tha (Yes, I wasn’t)”.
Sunita continues, “He is an old man, he was just forced to give that statement to the police. It has destroyed our lives. My husband is in jail and I have three children to look after. My eldest son, 16, works as a daily wager.”
In Matand, most people are unwilling to speak about the incident or about the boy Sweety was allegedly in a relationship with. Like most others, sarpanch Rajesh says, “I was not in the village that night.”
His brother Vijender, 46, is more forthcoming: “Sweety was seeing a boy from another village and he would loiter around. Defaulter type ka tha (He didn’t have a job). Her family had to do something. Bahut beizzatti hui thi (They felt insulted).”
Sub-inspector Subhash, who was the investigating officer and who is now posted in Jhajjar, says it was a “clear-cut case”. “The grandfather said his family killed the girl and signed the statement. This is what I said in court too,” the officer says over the phone.
Defence lawyer Sanjay Dahiya, however, believes the case is weak and will fall through in the high court. “Primary witness Dhajja Ram wasn’t present in the house that day. It will be proved soon,” he says.
Pawan Attri, the additional district attorney in the Sonepat district court, says though Dhajja Ram denied his statement during cross-examination, “there is circumstantial evidence to support the case. Sweety’s burnt body was found in the shed and a fire brigade had arrived to douse the fire”.
Back in Matand village, Dhajja Ram says he doesn’t attend court hearings anymore. Stepping out of his room to tend to his cow, he says, “I am worried for my family. Can you do something to get them out of jail? They have been there for very long.”