College textbooks are neatly stacked on a shelf inside the small one-room house of Pooranmal (name changed) in Sikar district of Rajasthan. A teenage boy sits next to an unmade bed with a blank expression on his face.
His elder sister does petty chores in the kitchen, eyes scrunched tight to check the tears from streaking down her face. Pooranmal sits on a worn out plastic chair in the courtyard, still in disbelief that he would never see two of his daughters, full of life and always willingly pampered by the family.
As the country celebrates Ambedkar Jayanti on Friday and remembers his ideals of equality, this Dalit family mourns the loss of two of its daughters who committed suicide after being allegedly gangraped by upper caste men. No arrests have been made in the case till date.
“She told me … Bhai unko chhodna mat, inhone hamare sath balatkar kiya hai (Brother don’t let them go, they have raped us) and I ran after them. I didn’t know that it was the last time I was seeing my sisters,” Rahul (name changed), the brother of Sita (18) and Sunita (17) (both names changed), told Hindustan Times.
The bodies of the girls, both first-year students in a college in Neem Ka Thana area of Sikar, were discovered on a railway track approximately two kilometres from their house on April 5. They committed suicide on the day they were allegedly assaulted.
“Both my mother and father were at work and after a while, I too had gone to Neem Ka Thana on the morning of April 5. Both were in the house at the time. When I came back after a while, I heard them screaming for help and sounds of men coming out of the house,” Rahul says.
As he hurried inside the house, Rahul saw three upper caste men from their village inside the room with his sisters.
“The clothes of my sisters were torn and all three men weren’t wearing shirts. After Sita told me that the boys had assaulted them I tried to catch them. Two ran away but I managed to get hold of one of them, Vicky. But he overpowered me and escaped,” he says.
The 16-year-old ran after the men, leaving his sisters behind. The next time, all that the family would see of the girls was the sight of their mangled lifeless bodies, lying on the railway tracks.
“I want justice for my daughters. The police didn’t register the FIR for one whole day and even when they did, the section for rape wasn’t used. I am being intimidated by upper caste people in my village for bringing charges against the accused,” Pooranmal told HT.
His elder daughter Rajni (name changed), who is pursuing a masters in English, has become a recluse, not venturing out of the house and even her parents are reluctant to let her out of sight.
“I was the one who identified both of them that day after the news spread that two girls have committed suicide. My sisters used to get afraid with even the slightest of injuries … I can’t imagine how they mustered the courage to fling themselves in front of a train or the immense pain that made them take this extreme step,” Rajni says.
Of the 3 accused, Bajrang Lal and Vicky Singh are Rajputs while Kanaram is a Brahmin.
Strange ‘offers’ start flowing in
As one strolls across the village, the road narrows down until it opens up in a settlement of huts, situated at the far end of the hamlet.
This is the place where Scheduled Caste families live, away from the houses of upper caste residents of the village. Sitting inside one of the huts are a group of people from the Balai community, the caste that Pooranmal’s family belong to.
Many of the elderly people attending the meeting saw the two girls grow up in this maze of mud houses, their voices hushed after the incident.
“From my small shop in the village, I saw the men running away from the house on the morning of April 5 and the boy chasing them,” Omprakash, one of the men in the gathering, says.
Another villager, Jograj Singh, seconds Omprakash and says that he too saw the men scurrying away from the locality.
Strangely, ever since the incident was reported to the police, random people have been walking up to the family with dubious offers.
“My wife works in the field of a villager. After the incident when I went to him to collect her wages, he told me to mutually settle the matter with the family of the accused and also offered me money,” Pooranmal says.
The only connection of Singh, the man who made the offer with the accused, is that he is also from the Rajput community.
Activists allege police inaction
Activists have alleged that the police are not arresting the accused and shielding them.
“The police initially registered the case under section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the IPC. It was only after our protests and meeting with senior police officials that section 376D (gangrape) and sections of the SC/ST act were included,” activist Kailash Meena says.
Other activists too demand a change in the investigation.
‘We have met several police officials and demanded a CID probe into the matter. It is of utmost importance that after such an extremely tragic incident justice should be ensured at the earliest for the family,” Kavita Srivastava of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) says.
However, the police haven’t included the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in spite of the fact that one of the girls was a minor.
Neem Ka Thana’s deputy superintendent of police Kushal Singh, who is the investigating officer in the case, told HT that the men could only be arrested after the report from the forensic science laboratory arrives about samples of vaginal swabs that were taken from the deceased.
“The accused men haven’t denied that they visited the house. They have said in their statement that the girls had called them and after checking call details we have verified this fact. They have said that when the brother of the girl reached the house, he confronted the men and a scuffle ensued after that which resulted in their escape,” Singh says.
Singh added that only if semen is found in the vaginal swab, the men could be arrested. The police have collected the clothes that the girls were wearing at the time of the suicide but haven’t any evidence or DNA samples from the accused.
The villagers tell a different story, alleging that the highly secretive manner in which the police forced the family to cremate the bodies as suspicious.
“The police didn’t even let us bring the bodies to our home. They took them straight to the cremation ground and also threatened to put us in a lock up if we protested. Earlier, they had taken almost a day’s time to lodge an FIR and constantly urged us to conduct the postmortem before the case was lodged,” Sumit (name changed), the eldest son in the family, says.
The daily routine of the family is left in complete disarray.
As Pooranmal chats with his neighbours, his son tries to not think about that fateful day but all their efforts of returning to normalcy stand futile by the memory of two dead teenage girls, jarring and raw.