Politics

Begusarai: Communal Tension In Village After Six-Year-Old Reveals Sexual Assault By Private Tutor

The Begusarai station
Snapshot
  • In yet another case of alleged Muslim-on-Dalit atrocity, the local police’s actions are less than satisfactory.

In June, the superintendent of police (SP) of Bihar’s Begusarai district tweeted that a “criminal is a criminal” and that “race/gender/caste/religion cannot be a basis to judge that”.

The district top cop was reacting to outrage over a case where a Dalit family, staying amidst an almost entirely Muslim-populated village, was sexually assaulted and beaten up by their neighbour with demands that they leave the village and shift to a “Hindu area”.

The cop threatened action against those “who flared up this matter as a communal issue”.

The SP had prematurely dismissed the allegations, attributing the assaults to a land dispute between the two families. The SP’s statements were based on a preliminary inquiry. However, as weeks passed and the case reached the Scheduled Castes commission in New Delhi, the police could not refute the family’s claims and also failed to establish the matter as one of land dispute.

It turned out that the local police station head, who had carried out the preliminary inquiry, had changed the victims’ statement in the first information report (FIR) in an attempt to probably shield the accused.

Three months since then, the Begusarai police are faced with another case that has raised communal tempers all over again.

A six-year-old girl from a Dalit family has been allegedly raped by a young man belonging to the Muslim community. The man is a private tutor who lives two houses away.

It was when the child showed great resistance in going for her tuition classes that the mother forced her to speak out. The child revealed disturbing details of her violation.

The case reached the police only after a full seven days, increasing the chances of the perpetrator going unpunished, since, in the SP’s own words, a delay means that “we did lose some crucial evidences”. Predictably, the cops are now struggling to bring the culprit to task.

Even though the SP has assured that the accused “shall be punished by due course of law”, the loss of crucial evidence means there is a real possibility that the culprit may go scot-free, as is often the case with rapes — especially those of minor children that seem to be on a perpetual rise.

It would be pertinent to recall here that the culprit of Aligarh’s ghastly murder case was a repeat sexual offender who was out on bail.

One of the reasons there are predators roaming freely amongst us is the reluctance to report such crimes and also the police’s unwillingness in investigating such cases, only because they may be perceived as “communal” crimes.

Here’s the story of what unfolded in the week following the latest Begusarai crime.

The girl’s father, Umesh Kumar (name changed to protect identity), resides with his wife and four children in a village in Begasarai’s Khodabandpur block. His close relatives live in adjoining houses.

For some months now, Umesh has been living in Varanasi alone, where he runs a food cart for a living while his family continues to stay in Begusarai.

Around two weeks back, the youngest child, who is yet to turn seven, said she did not want to go to her tutor anymore. The tutor, Mohammad Murtaza alias Dilkhush, lives just a hundred metres away. While the family says he is 22 years of age, some reports say he is 19.

The child had been missing her classes for several days giving vague reasons. She was also suffering from fever. But when the mother insisted she was fit enough to study – “we pay him so you better go” – the child threw a fit. This time, the mother asked her sternly if she was hiding anything; and the poor child eventually spoke up. “Wo ganda kaam karta hai,” the girl’s uncle, Ramesh (name changed) quoted the child as saying. He talked to this correspondent over the phone.

Murtaza would take her behind curtains, remove her clothes and sexually assault her. “The mother found bite marks on the girl’s private parts,” the uncle, who is handling the matter in absence of the girl’s father, said.

Ramesh said that the furious mother approached the women in her colony. Some of them gathered and went to the house of one Mohammad Akhtar, a relative of Murtaza’s uncle who is an IAS officer. Akhtar has links to a political party.

Why Akhtar?

“Because it was a communal matter and we had to take it up with an influential person from their community,” Ramesh explained.

Why with a person from the accused’s community?

“Because it was not the first time that Murtaza had done this. He has molested at least three girls before. One Paswan and two Thakurs,” he said.

Several questions pop up in the mind. Why was the family sending their six-year-old daughter to him despite knowing he is a serial predator? Why did they not go to the police instead of trying to settle the matter at community level? If not the police, why did they not go to the Pradhan? And why had Murtaza been let off in the other two cases?

Ramesh said that Murtaza had earlier molested “older girls” and their families had hushed up the matter fearing social shame. “We could not imagine he would do it to a child who he held in his arms at her birth,” he said.

He said that villagers hesitate to go to the police in inter-religious crimes fearing communal backlash as well as police’s hostility.

The Pradhan, he said, is a Muslim, and the Hindu villagers don’t trust him.

As per a local activist associated with a Hindu rights organisation, the village has about 75 per cent Hindus — mostly Dalits (Paswan caste; the child belongs to the Paswan caste) and Thakurs — and the rest Muslims.

And so, a meeting was held at Akhtar’s house.

According to Ramesh, Akhtar patiently heard the women, promised action and asked them to come the next day. However, he told the women to keep the matter to themselves as “keechad aap logo par hi girega (the filth will fall on you only)”. A small panchayat was held at Akhtar’s house the next day.

Ramesh recounted the events to this correspondent:

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Murtaza was summoned. He flatly denied the charge. Akhtar pressured him into accepting his crime and get ready to face the punishment.

The girl’s side demanded that Murtaza be thrashed ten times and paraded naked around the village.

Akhtar said no, the matter could not spread to the rest of the village.

The men demanded Murtaza be made to drink urine.

Akhtar declined.

The men next demanded that Murtaza be handed over to the women who would beat him with a burning wooden rod.

The women refused; they said they would do no such thing.

The men demanded Murtaza holds his ear and licks his spit.

Murtaza refused.

The men eased the condition. Murtaza need not spit on the ground but could do it on a chowki (wooden stool).

Murtaza remained adamant.

Eventually, nothing came out of the meeting. Everybody went home.

A couple of days later, villagers gathered for a large panchayat. “Only Hindus turned up. Not even one Muslim participated,” complained Ramesh. There were at least a thousand people, he said.

Word was then sent to some Muslims to join in; one of them fetched Murtaza.

“He was respectfully brought on a motorcycle,” Ramesh said. “We were seething.”

Murtaza denied the charges levelled against him. He said he had been pressured into giving a false testimony in the previous meeting. He said he was being framed by the Dalit family for extortion.

“That was ridiculous. Can we make a show of ourselves for a few hundred rupees?” Ramesh asked this correspondent.

He said that the Muslims did not cooperate in punishing the accused and seemed to side with him. The panchayat was dissolved but it created bitterness between the two communities. “The situation came close to a Hindu-Muslim riot,” said Ramesh.

“Someone said we are five thousand and they are fifty and asked what we were waiting for. Others asked him to calm down,” he said.

The angry villagers decided that enough was enough and they had no option but to go to the police. Numbering in hundreds, they marched towards the Khodabandpur police station and staged a demonstration.

Asked why they needed to agitate, Ramesh said that the police always tries to hush up matters involving two communities, often telling the villagers to settle it among themselves. “This is why we always go in groups and stage a protest. It is only then that the police listen to us,” he said.

According to Ramesh’s neighbour, Amit Kumar, the police treated them roughly, talked to them abusively and, barring family members, asked them all to leave. “The police threatened us with lathi charge,” Kumar said.

The family was asked to give a hand-written complaint. The complaint (a copy of which is with this correspondent) is made out in the name of the child’s mother. Dated 3 September, it gives the date of the child’s testimony to her mother as 1 September – which, as facts show, cannot be true (the girl’s uncle, however, could not recall the exact date on which the child shared her ordeal but a week had easily passed by then).

The complaint says the accused had violated the child several times in the past but she had never told her family about this.

At the time of publishing this report, the victim’s family had not received a copy of the FIR (number 185/2019, as per local reports). The local reports said that the accused had fled the village with his family even as the police were trying to arrest him. The concerned station house officer (SHO), Dinesh Kumar, did not answer any of the multiple calls made by this correspondent.

Eventually, a Twitter handle of the Begusarai police informed this correspondent on the status of the case on 8 September, in response to a query. “The accused has surrendered yesterday due to continuous police pressure. Victim’s medical and statement done. Matter reported to police after around 7 days, so we did loose some crucial evidences. However, accused shall be punished by due course of law (sic)”, the reply said.

Even as the case is under probe, the events give an insight into the lack of trust that residents in the dusty interiors of India have in the police. This only gets worse with the warnings issued by the police, threatening action against those who bring a “communal angle” to crimes — as the Begusarai police did in the previous Dalit atrocity case.

While it scares and discourages victims from seeking their help, it perhaps helps the police win accolades by showing a low crime rate.

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