On 23 February, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi was addressing a farmer’s rally in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura district when a woman began to raise slogans appealing to her for justice.
The woman, named Savita Sharma, was a resident of adjoining Bharatpur district that falls under Rajasthan. She urged the Congress leader to make the local police take action in her daughter’s gangrape case a year ago.
Uttar Pradesh is a government by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the Bharatiya Janata Party, while Rajasthan is governed by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot of the Congress party.
The media reported that Priyanka Gandhi took the woman aside, listened to her and dialled Gehlot, who reportedly assured action.
This correspondent visited Savita Sharma’s house in Badipur village that falls under Jurhera area of Bharatpur on 7 March.
The house is a picture of extreme poverty. Two cops have made the small room at the entrance their home. They were posted as guards soon after the rally.
Savita’s husband Ramdayal Sharma shares details of the gangrape case: In 2020, on the intervening night of 25 and 26 April, three men quietly entered his house around 2 am.
They lured their minor daughter into stepping out with them and took her to a vacant plot nearby. There, they gangraped her.
Ramdayal gave a complaint to the Jurhera police station the next day, that is on 26 April, based on which a first information report was filed (FIR number 84/2020).
The police booked one named accused — Khajaan, son of Amar Singh — and two unidentified men under IPC sections 363 (kidnapping), 376 (rape), 511 (general provision dealing with attempts to commit offences) and sections 7 and 8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
The police however made no arrests in the coming days. While the couple later identified one of the co-accused as Surendra, son of Charanjeet, the police kept telling them that the matter was under investigation.
The delay gave enough time for all the accused to flee the village, says Ramdayal.
Badipur is an almost all-Jat village and Ramdayal’s is the only ‘Pandit’ family living here, he says. The surrounding villages are dominated by Jats, Meos (almost all Meos are now Muslims), Ahirs and Yadavs.
Ramdayal says the police failed to act against the accused as they belong to the ‘dominant’ community.
He says the local investigating officer, sub-inspector Kamlesh Meena, gave into the pressure of the villagers and did not arrest the culprits. He further names a woman constable, Priyanka, accusing her of forcing the survivor into saying that the men only “attempted” gangrape.
“It’s not that the villagers did not show sympathy with me. All of them visited me and told me — ‘Pandat, tere saath bahut galat hua [Pandit, what has happened with you is very wrong]’. But none supported police action against the men.”
He says some Jat elders from the village visited him a few weeks later. They apologised on the accused’s behalf and urged Ramdayal to strike a compromise in the case. They offered to publicly punish the men in a large panchayat if Sharma agreed to withdraw the police case.
Sharma declined the offer.
“Had I compromised, all the young men would have started treating my other daughters as easy meat,” says Ramdayal. “…ki pandat ki betiyon ke saath kuch bhi kar lo [they would think it’s easy to prey on his daughters].”
The couple has six daughters and one son. The survivor of the gangrape, who is 16, is the eldest. The son is the youngest and has not started going to school yet.
Ramdayal earns his living through “panditaai”, that is, by performing Hindu pujas and rituals in temples, houses and workplaces.
When he turned down the elders’ offer, villagers stopped inviting him for panditaai work.
The income was always meagre, but the case further hit the family financially, he says.
In the coming months, the couple met the Bharatpur police chief and even travelled to New Delhi to meet senior Congress leaders.
“It’s not easy for us. We have to hire a taxi every time for such trips, which costs us Rs 4,000-5,000 each. We also have to pay the lawyers Rs 1,000-2,000 each time for writing letters on our behalf. We have exhausted all our savings in getting justice for our daughter,” says Savita.
Ramdayal says that last year, he learnt that Surendra’s family had got “fake” documents made from a private school showing him to be a minor. “We immediately took a lawyer to the local government school and accessed his marksheet that shows him to be a major. We submitted copies of the documents at the police station. All this takes time and money,” he says.
The couple says the meeting with the police chief proved to be futile as the officer simply told them that an investigation was on. Their subsequent visit to the Congress party office in New Delhi, which is around 150 kilometres from their village, did not yield any results too.
The couple identifies the party office as “Rahul Gandhi’s daftar”.
“At Rahul Gandhi’s daftar, they turned us away. We told them – ‘It’s your government in Rajasthan. Where else are we supposed to go?’ But they did not listen. They said we should have taken prior appointments,” says Savita.
In December, they got in touch with a Delhi-based organisation called ‘Rashtriya Savarna Parishad’. The organisation helped the couple connect with the Congress party office again.
A letter dated 16 January 2021 from the organisation addressed to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi appeals to the party to look into the gangrape case.
Another letter from the same date, addressed to Ashok Gehlot and signed by Congress national secretary Ajay Maken, says that around 50 people had met him regarding the Badipur gangrape case and he appealed to the Rajasthan Chief Minister for immediate action.
Nothing, however, came out of the letter exchanges. “We were thoroughly disappointed. We had spent a lot of time and money, made enemies within our village and yet, we were seeing no results,” says Savita.
It was on the advice of the Savarna Parishad that Savita went to the rally on 23 February addressed by Priyanka Gandhi. “I acted as per their advice. As soon as I saw Priyanka, I rushed towards her stage and started raising slogans,” says Savita.
“Only Priyanka Gandhi got our work done,” she says.
Ramdayal informs that Khajaan and Surendra were arrested last week from their relatives’ houses. The third accused, still unidentified, is absconding.
“We are happy with the action. The village now understands that it’s not that easy to touch Pandit’s daughters,” says Ramdayal.
The survivor was a student of Class 10 at a government school in Mathura when the crime took place.
She was in Bharatpur after completion of her examinations. In Mathura, she stays at her mama’s (maternal uncle’s) house.
After the case, she was sent back to Mathura. As per Ramdayal, she has not been able to secure a seat in Class 11 in the same school despite clearing her exams as she missed the dates for filing the required paperwork due to the case.
The couple requested this correspondent to take up the matter of their daughter’s school admission with the UP government.
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