CBI’s conclusion — that the two girls had not been raped or murdered, but had hanged themselves, after an affair of one of the girls with one of the suspects had soured — confused many, but settled matters for most. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose son was then-UP chief minister, had already been berated for his earlier comment, ‘Ladke, ladke hain… galti ho jaati hai’ (Boys will be boys, mistakes happen), and Badaun became another proper noun associated with India’s ‘ho jaati hai’ rape.
I witness? no
Almost a year later, on October 28, 2015, aspecial court under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012 rejected the CBI’s findings. Apart from finding glaring inconsistencies — which included the fact that established procedures were not followed in the first autopsy that had pronounced ‘no rape’, on the basis of which CBI had refused to file a charge sheet against the accused — the POCSO court found that family members of the deceased had been harassed by the investigators.
In journalist Priyanka Dubey’s 2018 book, No Nation for Women: Reportage on Rape from India, the World’s Largest Democracy, the author quotes Sohanlal, one of the two brothers whose daughters had been killed, ‘…[the CBI] would ask: ‘When Pappu (Yadav, one of the accused) was killing your daughter, did you see? Were you present when Pappu was hanging your daughter to the mango tree?’ On asking the CBI team why the family members of the victims were being tortured like this, Dubey quotes him saying, ‘Tu zyaada tez ban raha hai, tujhe fansayenge’ (You are acting too smart, we will implicate you in the case.)
While names of rape victims are, by law, kept anonymous by the media, they are obviously known to investigators — especially surnames. In the 2014 Badaun case, CBI field officers were reportedly all from villages near Katra, with one of the field officers having relatives from the area. Sohanlal was apparently told clearly by the CBI team to not implicate Pappu, a main accused. His surname was Yadav. While the POCSO special court is supposed to complete a trial within a year, the Badaun case drags on, outside the purview of the public eye and concern. Instead, the country has identified another ‘rape’ destination in Hathras in western UP, the village Boolgarhi being the site of another alleged gang rape and murder.
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) announced by chief minister Yogi Adityanath visited the family of the murdered on Wednesday. But what has been ominously familiar is the behind-the-scenes show by those investigating the horrific crime. The PTI image of UP Police cremating the body of the 19-year-old victim at 2.40 am on Tuesday/Wednesday on a field — the tall green grass in the foreground would have made the scene bucolic were it not for the sight of a pile of wood with a bundle wrapped on top and smoke curling up, and five figures in police uniform looking on with their faces covered and protected against Covid — starkly points to the inordinate and yet-to-be-explained rush to get rid of the victim’s body.
Crush the rape seed
The victim’s family members maintain that the police did not let any of them perform her last rites, which the police have refuted. Once again, strange things seem to be at play: the medical report from Aligarh Hospital that mentioned injuries does not confirm ‘forced sexual intercourse’. At the time of writing, a final post-mortem is awaited once the forensic report arrives. And, once again, the four suspects are from ‘upper caste’, the victim, a dalit. In the terrain of theory, this should not matter. But as noted in the Badaun case, it does for some kinds of investigations.
On Wednesday, Adityanath tweeted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked his administration to ‘take strict action against the guilty’ (doshiyon ke virudh kathortam karyawahi ki jaye). This sentence, paraphrased or quoted verbatim by the CM, holds the key not only to finding justice for the family of the teenage girl, but also to all investigations into crimes against women, especially rape and murder. The focus, at least for investigators, must be on the suspected perpetrators, not on the victim and her antecedents. If this approach is driven home from the highest powers of governance in the state — any state — the many twists and turns and play usually at work ‘on the field’ becomes secondary.
The UP Police must give a valid explanation for its pre-dawn ‘in camera’ cremation. The SIT team must ensure that its members bear no relation or (caste or otherwise) affiliation to the village and the suspected perpetrators. Let there be no extraneous forces at play from mango tree or village green to the investigating table. To this end, finding and punishing the guilty is the only deterrent against ‘empowered’ perpetrators — and for us not to remember Badaun, Hathras, Bulandshahr, Azamgarh… for the most noxious reasons.