ON APRIL 13, after the rape and murder in Kathua got a communal twist and sparked outrage across the country, the BJP’s national spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi named one “Zakir Husain” as the main accused in a similar case from Assam. “But some people are silent on that issue, and are trying to raise other issues in the wrong manner,” Lekhi said.
Neither Kathua nor the faith of the accused is relevant to the father of the 12-year-old victim from a village in Assam’s Nagaon district. His first words when he saw his daughter’s charred body were: “Allah, if you love me, allow her to speak.”
Speaking to The Indian Express at his thatched two-room home, the father says he has “heard something vaguely” of Kathua. “But I am just in shock — how can something like this happen at the hands of our own neighbours and family?” he says.
The police FIR says the girl was gagged, gangraped, doused in kerosene and set on fire on March 23. It says the victim managed to name the accused before she was rushed to a hospital in Nagaon and then the Guwahati Medical College where she died that night of severe burn injuries.
The FIR says the victim, a Class V student of a lower primary school, was raped thrice — by her 12-year-old classmate, her 11-year-old cousin and 19-year-old neighbour, Zakir Husain. All three have been caught — Husain is in the Nagaon Central Jail while the two minors have been kept in an observation facility in Jorhat.
The victim’s father, a daily wage labourer, says he was working in the fields that evening when his wife and elder daughter came to him with tea. Soon, word reached them that their younger daughter was electrocuted. “I started shouting at my wife, ‘Why did you leave her alone and come here?’ She must have been hungry after school,” says the father. This was around 1.30 pm. When they reached the house, they realised that this was no electrocution. A crowd of about a 100 had gathered outside. “But not a soul would go near my daughter,” he says. The child was lying on the bed, every inch of her skin burnt. “Her mouth was not burnt, as she had been gagged, and that is why she was able to speak,” he says.
According to the FIR filed by him that night, the victim returned home from school in the afternoon and was followed home by the three accused, led by Husain. “The girl was friends with the 12-year-old classmate,” says S Islam, a village resident. Other residents say Husain, the main accused, came from a broken family and was “always high on ganja”.
The FIR says Husain crept up from behind the girl, gagged her, threw her on the floor and raped her. The two minors allegedly followed, each taking turns. Husain then took a jar of kerosene from the house and doused her in it before setting her ablaze, says the FIR. “They knew where things were kept we are all neighbours. Our houses are always open,” says the father.
In the room adjacent to the scene of the crime, the victim’s sister-in-law was sleeping with her one-week-old child. “I woke up when I heard the commotion outside,” she says. “I saw the three boys running away from the back. I went into the other room, and I saw my sister-in-law and immediately began to pour water on her.”
The victim, who was lovingly referred to as “little one” was the youngest in the family of four. “She was a very polite girl,” says one of the villagers, “She would always ask after everyone.” Her days would be spent going to school and back, doing homework, spending time with her sister-in-law and playing with nephews and nieces. “In terms of economic parameters, this village is much below the normal average,” says Shankar Raimedhi, Nagaon SP. The father earns about Rs 400 per day — and alternates between working as a labourer, selling vegetables, or working in the field.
Ever since the incident, the sister-in-law has not been able to enter that room where she found the victim. “We are very scared,” she says, carrying her child on one arm, “I can’t be alone in this house.” The victim’s mother can barely speak — squatting on the ground, her arms wrapped around one of her grandchildren. She rarely makes eye contact with anyone, eats when forced to, and has been put on a drip at least five times in the past three weeks. “Most of our children do not understand what has happened — they know she is dead, they don’t know how,” says one of the women who live nearby.
The village is shaken but in an unusual twist, some women admit they feel safer now. “Husain and his family have gone. Before, we used to be scared to step out of our homes because of him. The fact that they are gone helps us sleep in peace,” says one of them.
When The Indian Express reached the village Thursday, the only brick house in the vicinity apart from the school, the teenager’s house was desolate: windowpanes had been broken and a lone splintered red chair lay in the foreground. The family fled the night of the incident itself. Three days after the incident, the parents were nabbed by police in a nearby village. The teenager was also found on the same day.
A neighbour claims the Husain had broken into his house in 2014. “His father has many charges against him, too, including rape,” claims the victim’s father. Other residents claim Husain’s wife left him about eight months ago, taking with her two of their children, including a newborn, due to harassment by her father-in-law. “They were the only family who owned land here, that is why they were never chased away despite all that had happened,” says Islam.
The village also has a very low rate of literacy. “In this district, women have no worth — they are only used as ‘bed partners’ and ‘tools for reproduction’,” says a police officer. However, the lower primary school, near the victim’s house, does see a decent turnout in terms of attendance every day. “Out of 179 children, at least 135 show up,” says one of the teachers. She admits to still getting goosebumps whenever she thinks about the incident. “I had only taught her earlier that morning,” she says.
The Class V classroom has about 30 children, and girls and boys are seated in separate rows. The juvenile classmate and the victim would sit side by side in class, only separated by an aisle. The victim’s classmates, who were interrogated by the police, never talk about the incident now. “They do not even know what happened, they are so young. They don’t understand it,” says the teacher.
“This was definitely a pre-planned crime… The boys timed it in such a way that all the men were away at the mosque for namaaz,” claims Islam, adding, “It was a Friday.” In hospital, the father put his daughter on the phone with her elder brother who was away in Kerala for work at the time. She told him, “Don’t hold anything against me anymore. It is time for me to go. You had two sisters. Now you will have one.” Minutes later, she died.