The girl’s family had alleged on Saturday that her eyes had been gouged out and her tongue slit; however police said the autopsy carried out by a panel of three doctors did not corroborate these claims.
The arrested persons, Santosh Yadav (25) and Sanjay Gautam (19), were neighbours of the victim, and were seen close to where the body was found. A court in Lakhimpur Kheri had sent them to judicial custody on Saturday, Dhaurahra (Lakhimpur Kheri) Circle Officer Abhishek Pratap Ajeya said. Neither of the accused has a criminal background, Ajeya said.
The village, which is around 50 km from the Lakhimpur Kheri district headquarters, has a sizeable Dalit population. Police were deployed in large numbers in the village on Sunday. Leaders of several parties visited the victim’s family and promised all possible help.
The victim’s mother said the girl had gone outside to relieve herself around 2 pm on Friday. “When she did not return after an hour, my husband and I went to look for her,” she said.
“We saw Sanjay Gautam and Santosh Yadav standing near a sugarcane field around 500 m from our home. I asked them if they had seen my daughter, and they said they had not.”
According to the mother, they looked in several other places in the village till it started to rain heavily. Around 5 pm, they returned to the sugarcane field because the girl often went there to relieve herself, the mother said.
“Searching, we found her body, with a scarf wrapped around her neck. Blood was oozing from near her eyes, and her tongue was out,” the mother said.
The girl’s father said he had told police that he had seen Sanjay and Santosh near the spot. “I also told them (police) that I have no enmity with anyone. Police must have arrested Santosh and Sanjay based on some evidence.”
The father, 57, is a labourer. Both he and his wife are unlettered. Their two sons, aged 25 and 17, were not in the village at the time of the incident.
The sugarcane field belongs to Sanjay’s uncle Jhanu Lal Yadav. A case of murder and destruction of evidence has been registered at Isha Nagar police station.
An uncle of the victim said he had initially thought the body was mutilated. “On Saturday, I told mediapersons that my niece’s eyes had been gouged out and her tongue had been slashed because that is what appeared at first sight. I saw blood near her eyes, and her tongue was hanging out,” the uncle said.
Lakhimpur Kheri Superintendent of Police Satendra Kumar said neither the panchayatnama nor the post mortem report mentioned any mutilation. After the autopsy confirmed rape, police had added charges of rape and sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, SP Kumar said. The accused have been charged under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as well. “We will also invoke the National Security Act (NSA) against them, the SP said.
Isha Nagar police station Station House Officer Sunil Kumar Singh said: “There was an injury near the victim’s eye, which could have been caused by the sharp edges of sugarcane leaves. In many cases of strangulation, the victim’s tongue is caught between their teeth. Sanjay and Santosh have confessed to having strangulated the girl with her scarf.” The accused feared that she would tell her parents about the sexual assault, SHO Singh said.
Santosh’s elder brother Raju Yadav (42) said he was sure Santosh, who is a graduate, married, and the father of a baby boy, was innocent. “Santosh had gone to cut leaves for animals. It is unfortunate that the girl’s family arrived there at the same time.”
Sanjay’s father Ramjeevan too, said his son was innocent. “The girl’s family has promised me that they will ask police not to frame any innocent in the case.” Sanjay, who is not married, has studied till Class 5.
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav tweeted: “Under the BJP’s rule, the harassment of girls and women is at its peak.”