A visit to the village of the gang-rape survivor throws up a shocking sense of resignation by the Dalit community at large.
With no police protection visible, the status of the ‘upper caste’ Muslim vis-a-vis the marginalised Pasi remains adversarial and aloof as ever.
Nothing really has changed since the horrific act, it seems.
When the 13-year-old survivor of the Kaushambi gang-rape went to the police station to file a complaint, a reporter approached her and asked, “Who were the culprits?”
“Muslim,” is all that the girl replied, her face covered with a dupatta.
This is how the sex crime was perceived in the area — an atrocity committed by one community on another. To be specific, majority ‘upper-caste’ Muslims on the poor, marginalised ‘lower caste’ Pasis.
Pasi is a scheduled caste that was once considered untouchable.
Earlier in the day on 21 September, around 11 am, three men had allegedly nabbed her in a field where she was collecting fodder. They undressed her, raped her and filmed the act. The video was circulated in the area and eventually went viral on the internet.
It happened in Ghosiya village of Kaushambi’s Chail tehsil in the state of Uttar Pradesh, hardly a 30-minute road journey from Allahabad airport.
The 2-minute-13-second video shows Geeta (name changed) pinned to the ground and a man — identified as Mohammad Adil alias 'Chhotka' alias 'Aatankwadi' — holding and raping her. A man making the video — identified as Mohammad Nizam — isn’t visible but can be heard talking throughout.
Geeta later revealed to Swarajya that when she was pleading with the men to spare her for god’s sake (“hamne kaha bhaiya bhagwan ke liye chhod do”), the men told her to beg in the name of Allah instead.
She did. Repeatedly. The men, however, didn’t spare her.
In Ghosiya village to which the perpetrators belong, Muslims are stronger in numbers, resources and clout. They form about 65 per cent of its 3,000-odd population; the rest almost entirely belong to Pasi caste. Kumhars and Dhobis — also scheduled castes — form a tiny minority.
The survivor lives in an all-Pasi colony that falls in Sarai Akil town but is only a small patch of field away from Ghosiya. Residents typically introduce themselves as being from Ghosiya.
They also refer to the perpetrators’ religion as a caste. Conversations reveal that Muslims are considered a ‘higher caste’. They are rich, and own property and agricultural land. A senior cop at Sarai Akil police station, on condition of anonymity, says they are mostly Syeds, Khans and Pathans. At least one person from every house, it is said, has lived or is living in the Gulf countries.
Many Pasis in Ghosiya have no experience to recount with other ‘higher’ castes such as Pandits and Thakurs as they have spent all their lives in their non-descript mud houses and the fields in which they labour for a pittance.
Ramu Saroj, 28, (name changed, surname intact) is a farm labourer. He says the gang-rape has been the “most brutal attack” on his community in a long time.
It has left them humiliated and betrayed.
Discrimination and injustice are a way of life for the Pasis, he says, but violating their minor girl and mocking the act by circulating videos has crushed their spirit and hurt their dignity.
Ramu talks about the discrimination. He says most Pasis in Ghosiya have been denied benefits of various government schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. “We have got nothing. It all depends on the pradhan of the village and he openly discriminates. He is from the Muslim caste and gave everything to his own people.”
“The upper caste wants to keep us poor so they have a steady supply of labour for their homes and fields. They fear that if we get a house of our own, we may not toil for them,” he says.
Muslim-majority Ghosiya has always had a Muslim pradhan for as long as he remembers, he says.
Before 2012, Dayaram, an MLA from Bahujan Samaj Party and a Pasi by caste, got a community toilet built in Ghosiya. However, it turned out to be of such poor quality that the entire structure collapsed within no time. It’s lying unused, forcing many villagers to continue to defecate in the fields.
Asked if the majority community practices open defecation too, Ramu says they do not, because the Muslims are well-off and have a toilet built at home.
On the day of the crime, the survivor’s family had to run from pillar to post to get just the first information report (FIR) registered at Sarai Akil police station. The one making the video, Nizam, was caught red-handed after Geeta’s neighbours gathered in the field hearing the girl’s screams. The others managed to flee.
The station house officer (SHO), Manish Pandey, detained Geeta’s father for more than two hours instead of hearing him out. He has been suspended after a departmental inquiry.
Geeta’s mother and her neighbours first went to Sarai Akil Nagar Panchayat Chairman Shivdani and then to BJP MLA from Chail, Sanjay Gupta. They allege that the two didn’t show the needed promptness in the matter.
They eventually turned to an activist couple from their community who gathered villagers and staged a protest outside the police station. The FIR was registered at 9.30 pm — nine hours after the crime.
“It’s always like this with people like us,” says Ramu.
A Pasi couple from Ghosiya, who live just outside the mohalla in which the perpetrators live, say a similar rape took place in the village in 2005. The girl was from Ravidas community — also a scheduled caste — and the rapist was a Muslim who had dragged her into a field. Villagers agitated outside the police station, some of them even threatened suicide, but the police covered up the case, they say.
“The entire mohalla went there. But those were the times of Samajwadi Party. Muslims would get away with anything,” the man says.
The couple takes me to the house of the 2005 survivor. The girl’s father is at home. He says the girl has been married for several years and rejects the gang-rape allegation. “The man wanted to rob her jewellery. That’s all it was,” the father says.
Back at the couple’s house, I am told the father was given a sum of money to forget all about the case. The rapist was sent to Mumbai. “Eventually all we could demand from the police was that there would not be a repeat,” the man says.
“It has happened again. Rapes have increased under this government,” he says, and adds, “But now at least the culprits have been arrested".
The couple says they are among the few educated Pasi families in the village who have been exposed to the outside world more than their neighbours.
The man is a graduate. He had a hard time at school and college. “As a student, I and other Pasis would take own mats to sit on the floor. The ‘upper caste’ would sit on chairs,” he says.
Though such practices have changed in schools, discrimination continues. “During panchayats and meetings with the pradhan, they always make separate arrangements for us. We sit separately and drink from separate glasses,” he says.
Asked why they do not protest this discrimination, which is illegal under law, the man says, “Do you really expect us to slap police cases on them? As a solution, we have simply stopped going for such meetings. Even when the DM [district magistrate] is here, we don’t go. We go only if the person calling us gives us some value,” he says.
It is, perhaps, thanks to such treatment at every step at the hands of either ‘upper caste’ Hindus or Muslims, that the community remains marginalised despite strength in numbers — it’s the second-largest Dalit sect in UP after Jatavs, forming close to 16 per cent of the state’s entire SC population.
Talking of the recent rape, Ramu gets agitated. He complains about the lack of support from the Muslim community in getting the survivor justice.
“Ab to ye aar-paar ki ladai hai (it’s now or never for us),” he says.
More than three weeks have passed since the incident. Contrary to what Ramu says, the mood is no more tense. There is no police deployment anymore.
Things are ‘normal’. Men like Ramu continue to labour in the fields. Beyond work, there was and continue to be little interaction between the two communities. The only difference is that the unwritten rule that Pasi girls wouldn’t venture alone in the fields has been made stricter. Many girls, in fact, said that let alone fields, they have stopped going to school too. Geeta’s younger sister, all of seven, is one of them.
The community perhaps can’t afford to be angry.