‘The men told us to go home and sleep... But I couldn’t keep quiet’: Mother of 9-year old rape victim
- She was the only child of the couple, who belong to the impoverished Valmiki caste and made their living by picking off scraps and rags and begging near a local Muslim shrine.
For the nine-year-old Dalit girl, whose alleged rape and murder touched off angry protests, her mother was her best friend.
Residents of Purani Nangal village remember the young girl as fiercely protective of her mother, tagging with her everywhere as the older woman collected garbage. She would sit around, talk or sing and come back to their airless one-room house at 5pm every day.
“If she saw anyone misbehaving with me, she would quickly retort to silence the abuser. In return, all she wanted from me was to tie her hair into a nice plait,” the mother recollected.
She was the only child of the couple, who belong to the impoverished Valmiki caste and made their living by picking off scraps and rags and begging near a local Muslim shrine.
Stories of rape and molestation from across the city often echoed in the neighbourhood, spooking the mother who refused to let her daughter out of sight.
Neighbours often insisted that the girl be sent to school, but the mother would cite safety concerns. Still, during the past year, she was slowly convinced of the benefits of education. “Finally, during the lockdown, the mother decided that when schools open, she would send her to study,” said a neighbour, Geeta Devi.
That was not to be.
As dusk fell on Sunday, the girl’s dead body were found at a local crematorium. A local priest, and three of his associates, claimed the girl was electrocuted while using a water cooler but the girl’s family alleged she was raped and forcibly burnt to erase evidence. The priests and others even advised the mother to bury the news and ward off scandal.
“They told us to go home and sleep and not mourn the death. They said if we called the police, they would steal her organs. But I couldn’t keep quiet, so the moment I got back, I screamed at the top of my lungs…my girl was gone,” said the mother.
Talking to the girl’s parents, police and other investigating officials, eyewitnesses and local villagers present at the spot, HT recreates how the tragedy occurred.
Around 5.30pm on Sunday, the mother suddenly felt ill.
She asked her daughter to fetch water in a bottle. The girl strolled into the crematorium with an empty bottle in her hand. The woman started walking back home. Her husband had left for the market.
The couple had no immediate reason to suspect trouble. The crematorium – which faced the shrine where the woman often sought alms -- was one of the few places she let her daughter alone. A water cooler in the crematorium premises was a big draw for the mother and daughter on hot, dusty days. The family was no stranger to the crematorium staff either. “The pandit ji (accused crematorium priest Radhe Shyam) would sometimes ask my daughter to make tea or bring him water,” the mother said.
The couple was sometimes called also to clean the premises or move piles of wood. “He would give my daughter ₹5-10, but never paid me a penny for my hard work,” the mother said.
Local residents knew the 55-year-old priest for years because his father presided over the crematorium before him.
“Until then there was no way to know what the pandit ji had in mind,” the girl’s father said.
About 30 minutes later, when the mother returned, her daughter wasn’t around. Instead, it was priest, Radhe Shyam, looking out for her.
The woman said – and the case FIR corroborated – that Shyam walked her into the crematorium and told her that the daughter died of electrocution from touching water cooler. “I saw my daughter on a bench. Her hands and feet were stretched out. Her eyes were closed, her lips were blackish, her nose was bleeding and water was oozing out of her mouth. But there was no mud or dirt on her clothes,” the mother recollected.
She alleged four men were present: Shyam, Kuldeep Kumar, 63, Laxmi Narayan, 48, and Mohammad Salim, 49.
Shyam rode out on his scooter to find the girl’s father. “He picked me from the market, but revealed about the death only when we were on the flyover near the crematorium,” the father said.
By 7.30pm, the pyre was on fire -- all religious cremation formalities sidestepped.
“But a mother’s heart couldn’t accept this wrong and she decided to call the villagers. Each time my wife and I tried to run away, they would drag us back in. They kept the crematorium’s gates locked until the pyre was fully burning,” the father alleged.
The woman said they were eventually allowed to leave a little before 9pm. “They offered to feed us before leaving, but I refused. They said that if we did not let anyone know about the cremation, they would help us perform the last rites in the Yamuna,” the mother said.
The woman’s neighbours remember her running towards them around 9pm, screaming that her daughter was killed. Soon, dozens of residents were outside the crematorium, knocking down the gates. The funeral pyre was raging by then. “Only the legs were not burnt,” said Ajit Kumar, a local resident.
A statement by Ingit Pratap Singh, deputy commissioner of police (south-west) said that a call to the police control room (PCR) was made at 10.30pm.
Kumar said many residents were enraged and thrashed the four suspects. “One of them confessed and then blamed Radhe Shyam for planning everything,” said Kumar.
The four suspects were eventually rescued by the police.
The DCP’s first statement said that the PCR call was about “rape and death of a minor girl and her being cremated”, but neither rape nor murder was mentioned in the FIR registered at Delhi Cantonment police station.
On the issue of the FIR not mentioning rape, the DCP said that such cases are not registered based on the allegations made by the PCR caller. “The girl’s mother did not mention rape and murder in her statement for the FIR, or even in her statement the next day under CRPC section 164,” the officer said. The mother disputed this.
On Monday evening, police added sections of rape, murder, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) and the SC/ST Act after the mother’s statement was recorded before the SC/ST Commission.
The post-mortem of the victim’s body by a medical board comprising three doctors from Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital came back inconclusive on Wednesday because only her charred remains were recovered.
“The autopsy was inconclusive and no cause of death has been ascertained since very few body parts were available,” the DCP said.
Back at the village, there is a clear divide. Many of the victim’s neighbours and members of the Valmiki community are galvanized in their demand for justice. Many have mobilised activists, called reporters and recorded every statement since Sunday night.
Others – especially on the upper-caste dominated section of the 7,000 strong village – see this as a political conspiracy to whittle their power.
Among them is the family of one of the arrested, Laxmi Narayan.
Narayan’s wife, Kiran Devi, said her husband was not an employee at the crematorium. “He is a painter who returned from work, handed me a part of his daily wage, and then went out for a shave. Since the saloon was crowded, he strolled out to find a gathering. He was a part of the crowd, but some local residents jealous of him framed him in this case,” said Devi.
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