A 23-year-old woman in UP’s Unnao was allegedly gangraped and then set afire by accused five days after he was released on bail.
Questions in the narrative remain.
As early as 9 am on the morning of 7 December, more than a dozen OB vans were parked outside the house of the ‘Unnao rape victim’.
Crews of several news channels had fixed their cameras on the adjoining rooftops in anticipation of high-profile political visitors, the most prominent being Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
A modest mud-and-straw construction, the house could barely bear the commotion. At one point, the thatched roof threatened to collapse but the mishap was averted thanks to a few alert men who raised an alarm.
On the ground, the victim’s father and uncle were seated on chairs, with a woman reporter holding a mike. The men looked devastated; their 23-year-old daughter had succumbed to burn injuries the previous night in New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.
“We want the same punishment for the perpetrators as was given to Hyderabad rapists,” said the father, Ram Kishen Vishwakarma.
His younger brother, Munnu, said their girl was brave and fearless; she hadn’t given up on her quest for justice despite persuasions by her elders to withdraw the rape case against the accused.
Their daughter’s body was yet to reach the village -- Hindunagar in Kundanpur gram panchayat in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district.
The victim had been airlifted to New Delhi from Lucknow on the evening of 5 December, around 12 hours after she had been set afire allegedly by five men from the village, including the husband of the gram panchayat pradhan.
The alleged attackers included her alleged rapist Shivam, who is the pradhan’s nephew and had been released on bail on 25 November.
Inside the house packed with reporters, the victim’s sisters and aunts were crying inconsolably. A woman fainted.
What Happened On 5 December
Early morning on 5 December, around 4 am, the victim left her house, purportedly to catch a 5 am passenger train to Raebareli from Baiswara railway station, which is some three kilometres away from her house.
She was alone and on foot. She was allegedly doused with petrol and set on fire while she was at the Gaura crossing, hardly a kilometre away from her house.
A report in Navbharat Times by Praveen Mohta published on the same day quotes an eye-witness, Ravindra Prakash, who runs a roadside stall around a kilometre away from the crossing.
Prakash says he saw a woman in flames approaching him. She was unclothed and screaming for help. She asked him for his phone so she could dial the police. The man took his wife’s phone, dialled the number and made her talk to the police.
He also wrapped a blanket around her. The woman left and ran, and collapsed some 200-300 metres away. He did not see any man fleeing from the spot, the report says.
Cops from the nearest Bihar police station [not to be confused with the state of Bihar] were already on patrol and help arrived shortly. The victim was promptly taken to a primary health centre where she gave her statement to the sub-divisional magistrate.
Her statement (a copy of which is with Swarajya) was recorded at 5.35 am. It says that when, at around 4 am, she was going to the Baiswara railway station to catch a train to Raebareli, five men – Harishankar Trivedi, Ram Kishore Trivedi, Shubham Trivedi, Shivam Trivedi and Umesh Bajpai – were already waiting for her.
They allegedly surrounded her, hit her on her head with a rod and stabbed her in the neck. Then they allegedly poured petrol on her and set her on fire.
A crowd gathered due to her screams and one of them called up the Bihar police station. The police then brought the victim to the Sumerpur health centre.
The victim had filed a rape case against Shubham and Shivam on 12 December 2018, and it was in connection with this case that she was going to Raebareli, the conclusion of the statement said.
In the above statement, the victim has given her age as 30 years.
Of the alleged perpetrators, Harishankar is Shubham’s father and the husband of gram panchayat pradhan, Savitri. Ram Kishore is the brother of Harishankar and Shivam’s father. Umesh is their neighbour and a panchayat member.
The woman was subsequently taken to the district hospital. The medical report confirmed burns but no other external injury as alleged by her in her statement to the magistrate.
“Superficial to deep burn all over body except over foot. 90% deep burn injury. No other injury except burn,” says the medical report.
The next day, the police also issued a press note, which said that contrary to news reports claiming stab and rod injuries on the victim, the medical report mentions no other injury except for burns.
After the district hospital, she was referred to the civil hospital in Lucknow. The family was informed about it all only around 8:30 am.
While the victim was being taken to the Lucknow hospital, her brother Anil registered a first information report (FIR) at the Bihar police station in noon.
His statement says that when his sister was leaving for Raebareli to catch a train, she was burnt a little distance from the station.
He says in his statement that he suspects Shubham Trivedi and Shivam Trivedi to be behind the attack as there is a court case going on against them. The accused have given death threats to the family a number of times.
In the evening, around 6:30 pm, as her health deteriorated, arrangements were made to take the woman to New Delhi after the intervention of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister, Yogi Adityanath.
She was airlifted to Delhi in a critical state from Lucknow airport, which is around 70 kilometres from her village.
She died the next day, around 11.40 pm.
"Despite our best efforts, she did not survive. Her condition deteriorated towards the evening. She had a cardiac arrest around 11.10 pm.
“We tried to resuscitate her, but she passed away around 11.40 pm [on Friday]," Dr Shalab Kumar, Head of Burn and Plastic Surgery at the Safdarjung hospital, told the media on the morning of 7 December.
‘Compromise’ Meeting Had Been Scheduled A Day After The Attack
The victim was the youngest of five sisters and two brothers. She was pursuing her BA (Bachelor of Arts) degree from the Amar Shahid Rao Ram Baksh Singh college in the Bihar area of Unnao.
“We want the perpetrators to be burnt alive as well,” said her elder sister, who is 28 and married.
“My sister didn’t even live here. She lived on rent in Lalganj as she feared for her safety,” she said. Lalganj is around 30 kilometres from the village, and another 30 kilometres away from Lalganj is the Raebareli railway station.
“She shouldn’t have come here in the first place,” the sister said, amid sobs.
Another sister said the victim did not always keep the family informed of her visits. “She would often go to Raebareli or Lalganj for work. I wish she had asked someone to accompany her that morning,” she said.
The victim’s uncle, Munnu, lives in Unnao city. Close to where his shop is located lives Shivam’s uncle.
“On Sunday (1 December), his fufa (father’s sister’s husband) came to me in a drunken state. I said, ‘Panditji, you are welcome at my shop.’ He said he will burn my niece and her father. I said this is not a matter fit to discuss in the market. That we should all meet and sort things out between ourselves. I suggested that Shubham, Shivam, and their fathers meet my niece and her father on Friday (6 December).”
“We decided not to meet at our homes but at the local Narmadeshwar temple. He agreed. He wanted a compromise,” Munnu said.
“But the meeting never happened. They burnt her dead a day before. They promised to burn her and they did it,” he continued.
Just then, the victim’s father, while giving a byte to a news channel, exclaimed, “What do I want?! What do I want? You want to know what I want? I want the government to either shoot them dead or drop a bomb at my house. Kill us all.”
Most Villagers Mum On The Incident
This correspondent talked to a dozen families living around the victim’s house. Two women, who live in the adjoining house, said the brahmins of the village treat the lower castes as nobodies.
They arrive in groups at the slightest provocation and beat up the lower castes black and blue. One of them, Kanti, who belongs to the Goriya caste, said she and her sister-in-law were brutally thrashed by some brahmins a few years ago over a petty matter.
“They broke my skull. My sister-in-law has a plate fitted in her leg now. It was that bad,” she said. “But the police favoured their own castes. The brahmins. We don’t have a voice here.”
Asked if her attackers included the five men named in the recent case, Kanti said no, but they were related. “All brahmins are but one clan,” she said.
Victim’s uncle Munnu joined in. “The police don’t care about us poor folks. They side with the pradhan’s family, who is rich and powerful. We struggle to make ends meet. We work all day to earn just enough to feed our children. Who will listen to us?” he said.
“We had a beautiful girl. These pandits used her and threw her in the dustbin. But our girl was determined. She told me, ‘Chacha, I will get you justice.’
“I said, ‘Dear daughter, we don’t have a penny on us, how will you fight the court case?’ But she kept saying she will. The day of justice, however, never arrived. Instead, death arrived,” he said.
Around one-fourth of the Kundanpur gram panchayat’s population are brahmins. The rest, mostly Goriyas, belong to the backward castes. The victim belonged to the Lohar caste, which also is a backward caste. Hers is the sole Lohar family in Hindunagar.
Other neighbours maintained silence on the matter. Some said they did not know the details as the woman was seldom home. Others said there was more than what meets the eye.
“We are actually from the rival party, rival of the pradhan that is. But still, we can tell you that this is not their doing,” one of them, a Mishra who did not give his name, said.
“That man [husband of the pradhan] is corrupt to the core. There’s nothing more I want than to see his wife leave the post. But that doesn’t mean we will be happy to see him and his family go to jail for no reason,” Mishra, now joined by several other men, mostly brahmins but also some Goriyas, said.
When asked, he gave no specific reasons but suggested a visit to the accused’s house and his neighbours’. The others nodded.
The gangrape case against Shubham and Shivam
Savitri Trivedi is the pradhan of Kundanpur gram panchayat in which falls the Hindunagar village. Going by what villagers say, it’s her husband, Harishankar, who holds the reins. Shubham is their only son.
Shivam, who is Shubham’s cousin, was in a relationship with the victim for many years. Some say they had been close since they were children. Both Shivam and Shubham are about the same age as the victim, said the neighbours.
The two even planned to marry; at least the victim was led to believe so.
In a recent tweet, the Uttar Pradesh police said the victim had lodged an FIR this year alleging that she had been raped between 19 January and 12 December 2018, by one of the accused on the pretext that he would marry her.
As per reports, the woman had filed two FIRs this year. The first was lodged against Shivam and Shubham under section 376D (gang rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC at Bihar Bahta police station on 5 March 2019. The second was lodged against Shivam at Lalganj on 6 March 2019.
The FIRs were filed only after intervention by court, after months of struggle by the victim.
The contents of the FIRs, as per a Hindustan Times report, is that in January 2018, she confronted Shivam to keep his promise of marriage. Shivam took her to a Raebareli court on 19 January and prepared a marriage contract but brought her back to her village on the pretext of marrying her soon.
As per a report by news agency ANI, the marriage contract said, "We declare that we have solemnised our marriage in a temple on January 15, 2018, according to Hindu traditions with our free will. We are living with each other as wife and husband. We are signing this agreement to avoid any legal hindrance.”
As per a New Indian Express report, she again accompanied Shivam to Lalganj in Raebareli thinking they would marry in a temple. Instead, Shivam raped her and video-recorded the act.
He kept her in a rented room in Raebareli for two months and kept a close watch on her. He threatened to kill her if she stepped out. While in captivity, she was not even allowed to peep out of the house. He regularly changed houses and cities.
The Hindustan Times report says that as per the FIRs, the victim then took refuge in her aunt’s house in Lalganj in Raebareli. Shivam, however, managed to reach her aunt’s house on 12 December 2018.
Again promising to marry her, he took her to a temple. There, he pledged the same before a deity but on the way back, Shivam and his cousin Shubham dragged her to a field and raped her at gunpoint.
Shivam was arrested on 19 September 2019. Police declared Shubham as absconding. Shivam was released on bail on 25 November 2019.
For bail, Shivam’s lawyer had submitted in the court that the couple entered into a marriage and had executed an agreement, but “when the relation was not accepted by Shivam’s parents, the FIR was lodged by the woman”.
“Therefore, the applicant is entitled to bail. In case of being enlarged on bail, he will not misuse the liberty of bail,” the submission said.
As per a 6 December Indian Express report, the family said that though he was released on 25 November, Shivam returned home only “around four days ago”.
‘Our Men Are Being Framed. We Want A CBI Probe.’
The houses of Shubham, Shivam and 27-year-old Umesh Bajpai are close by, in the same colony. Unlike near the victim’s house, there is an eerie silence here and no media crew. The houses are empty; on our request, a neighbour brings the women of the three families to talk.
They break down instantly.
Shubham’s mother Savitri, Shivam’s mother Saroj and Umesh’s sister (she did not give her name), all claimed that the men had not stepped out of the house in the wee hours of 5 December at all.
“The police came around 6 am. They took Shubham away. He had been sleeping. We didn’t ask much as we didn’t sense any trouble,” said Savitri. Saroj said the same about Shivam.
Umesh’s sister said the police did not even come to their house. Instead, when Harishankar left for the police station after some time to see what the matter was, Umesh only accompanied him.
Umesh’s neighbour from the adjacent house said that around 6.15 am, he saw Umesh putting on a jacket and sitting on the back seat of a car, with Harishankar in the front.
“They told me the police had taken Shubham and Shivam and they are going to see what had happened,” he said. He added that he heard no movement from the house around 4 am.
“All this while, we did not have a clue that the girl had been set afire. We came to know only later in the day,” Umesh’s sister said, while the other women agreed.
“Shivam was in the toilet when the police came. Shubham was still in bed,” Saroj said.
“Tell us, would the men come and sleep after dousing someone with petrol,” she asked.
“If five men set someone on fire, will they leave her alive? And that too, fit enough to call up the police station and give her statement?” Umesh’s sister said.
“Her statement to the magistrate says she was stabbed and beaten. Why no stab injuries were found on her body then? Does it not show that she lied?” she said.
“She filed a rape case against Shubham on 12 December . But we have documents to prove that he was in a local hospital that day undergoing a hydrocele operation,” said Savitri.
The women proceeded to produce a heap of papers of purported chats between the victim and two men named Mahesh and Nagendra. The chats are intimate in nature and suggest plans for trapping the accused.
“Shivam accessed her Facebook password and took screenshots. He would have married the girl but these chats revealed she was in a relationship with other men. How could he marry her then?” said Saroj.
Copies of the Facebook chat have been submitted in the court and in the Bihar police station, she said.
“We have strong reasons to believe that she tried to kill herself at the behest of one of those men who is her lawyer,” Saroj said.
“If our men have done it, hang them. Kill them. But don’t do it without investigation. Don’t do it like they did in Hyderabad. We pray for a fair investigation,” Savitri said.
“We have full sympathy with the girl. But what if she killed herself? She would often threaten the family of consequences if Shivam did not marry her,” said Saroj.
“Should we also commit suicide and frame people out of revenge,” said Umesh’s sister.
The women said that few media houses presented their side of the story. They threatened a hunger strike outside the Unnao police station if this “one-sided” investigation continues.
At the Bihar police station, no cop was willing to talk. Most said they were “outsiders”. The station house officer (SHO) Ajay Kumar Tripathi, was at the victim’s house because of “VIP movement”.