Coercion, abduction and rape: How Lalitpur horror unfolded in UP

An abducted girl was taken to Bhopal, where she was allegedly gang-raped for four days. When she was brought back, and handed over to the SHO, the officer allegedly raped her in the police station
The police station in Lalitpur where the minor was allegedly raped by the SHO. (Shiv Sunny) PREMIUM
The police station in Lalitpur where the minor was allegedly raped by the SHO. (Shiv Sunny)
Updated on May 14, 2022 11:32 AM IST
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ByShiv Sunny, Lalitpur

Eight siblings were by themselves on a scorching afternoon on April 22. Their father was away on work and their mother at a hospital in Lalitpur, a district town in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region. The oldest, a 13-year-old girl, was bathing on a stone slab in their dark tiny two-room set house in Pali village, some 27km from the district town. Her three younger sisters waited behind her while the remaining four washed themselves at the village’s common hand pump.

Around 2.30pm, their neighbour, Chandan Aharwar, walked in on the pretext of charging his phone. He was followed by another man who stood at the door, while a third waited in the narrow lane outside. Chandan, 24, ordered the three children to leave for the hand pump. One complied – the 11-year-old girl picked up an old plastic bucket and walked out. “I was afraid of disobeying them,” she later said. Two others didn’t – but the intruders didn’t seem to mind.

As the 11-year-old walked away, she heard the roar of motorcycles riding away and rushed back. It was too late. “They had taken away my oldest sister,” she said. When their mother returned an hour later, she rushed to the local station house officer (SHO), Tilakdhari Saroj, and begged him to search for her abducted daughter.

But Saroj didn’t register a first information report (FIR).

Investigation later revealed that the abducted girl was taken to Bhopal, where she was allegedly gang-raped for four days. When she was brought back, and handed over to the SHO, the officer allegedly raped her inside the police station on April 27. Three days later, the girl told counsellors of the crime, eventually resulting in the arrests of the SHO and five other suspects, and the suspension of all 29 personnel of the station.

“All this could have been avoided had the SHO registered a kidnapping case on the day of abduction,” said Bhanu Bhaskar, additional director general of police (Kanpur zone).

Evidence suggests the SHO was allegedly in touch with the suspects, and could possibly have been part of the conspiracy. After all, the disappearance of the girl prevented her from appearing in court in an earlier rape complaint – one where the SHO had, again, refused to file a complaint. Using statements from lawyers, investigators, police officials, the survivor’s family members, counsellors and the families of the accused, HT pieces together the details of this gruesome crime.

An initial rape case ignored by police

The 13-year-old survivor was the only child of her mother from her first marriage. Her father died soon after her birth and her mother remarried, which gave her seven half-siblings – five girls and two boys.

In Pali town, with a population of 10,000, this family was among the impoverished ones. They live in a two-room house on a 40 square yard plot built under the PM Awas Yojna in 2019. It has no beds, only tattered and soiled mattresses on the floor. Parts of the house are not even cemented and the roof black with soot.

The 13-year-old girl’s misfortune began last November. The girl’s mother, in her court plea, alleged the child was out to relieve herself at 4am on November 7 when Chandan and his friend, Mahendra Chaurasia, 48, dragged her into a shanty, and allegedly raped her .

Later that day, the woman marched her child to the police station, and asked the SHO to file an FIR and get her medically examined. Nothing moved. “The rapists were roaming around openly. My daughter stopped going to school in fear,” the mother said.

On November 14, she approached the court, which in turn asked the police to respond to her allegations. A sub-inspector working under the SHO said the evidence didn’t support the allegations and the mother was a “habitual” complainant.

Now, Nikhil Pathak, Lalitpur’s superintendent of police, says the November complaint should have led to an FIR. “All aspects of the crime, and old allegations of negligence are being probed by dedicated and neutral committees,” said Pathak.

Within hours of the mother’s plea on November 14, the girl filed an FIR accusing her parents of coercing her into registering “fake” cases . The child’s stepfather alleges the SHO threatened her daughter. “The SHO manipulated my innocent child,” he added. The accused argued that the mother was lying, and that she disapproved of the 13-year-old girl’s relationship with one of the accused, Chandan.

The girl’s lawyer, Hardayal Singh Lodhi, said the court eventually rejected the mother’s request for an FIR. “But it asked for the girl’s statement to be recorded in court on April 25,” he said. A senior investigator, requesting anonymity, said the SHO was found to be in touch with the suspects who picked up the girl on April 22, thereby preventing her statement from being recorded.

The survivor’s 3-day ordeal in Bhopal

When the girl was taken to Bhopal, accompanying her were Chandan and Chaurasia (both accused in the November case), a neighbour Raj Bhan, and a fourth suspect who is the survivor’s maternal cousin.

Moreover, Bhan was carrying a gun and threatened to kill her parents, said a counsellor who eventually was instrumental in blowing the lid off the case.

Police officers said the kidnappers didn’t check into a hotel for fear of being traced. “In the daytime, they loitered on the streets near Bhopal railway station, nights were spent under a bridge, where the men would take turns to rape her while one of them would keep guard,” said the counsellor, to whom the child eventually narrated her experiences. The girl’s memories of the place were limited to hearing the azaan from a mosque, and the sound of running trains.

Her ordeal seemed to come to an end when the suspects dropped her at the Pali police station in the early hours of April 26. “The SHO should have immediately got the girl medically examined. He didn’t do that. The girl was too traumatised to face her parents, and the SHO didn’t even inform her parents. Instead, he handed her over to her maternal aunt without any legal action,” said a police investigator on condition of anonymity.

This maternal aunt is the mother of the victim’s cousin involved in the abduction and alleged gang rape, said police. While her relations with the survivor’s mother were hostile, she shared a good rapport with the SHO, locals said on condition of anonymity.

On April 27, the SHO summoned her to the station on the pretext of recording her statement though no other legal formality was initiated . After four hours at the station -- where not a single CCTV was functional -- he led her to a private room and allegedly raped her around 8pm. She was sent back to her aunt after that. “He thought that if the girl didn’t create a scene after being gang raped by four men, she wouldn’t complain about being abused by a powerful officer,” the investigator quoted above said.

The girl needed support to tell her story. That opportunity arrived on April 30 when the aunt decided she couldn’t take the child’s responsibility anymore. So, the SHO called Childline, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Lalitpur. Once the police left, however, the counsellors nudged her, and she began opening up. “Within the next three hours, she revealed abuse which shocked us. Once everything was off her chest, the visibly distraught child slept for 13 straight hours,” her counsellor said.

A hostile town, and steely resolve to fight

Back in Pali, the survivor’s family continues to battle a hostile population that marched in support of the arrested suspects last week. The town believes the four suspects were framed by the couple they accuse of frequently misusing the laws to “blackmail and threaten” local residents. “The child’s mother had falsely implicated my older son (Jagannath) too of rape, nine years ago. Jagannath spent two months in jail and was freed only after we paid her 50,000,” said Dayalu Aharwar, father of Raj Bhan.

The SHO’s wife, Sangeeta Kaithal, blamed the victim’s mother. “I know my husband as an honest officer who rose from a humble background. That is why his officers are not standing by him,” she said.

As for the survivor, she continues to struggle to forget what she went through. But the support she has found over the last two weeks has steeled her. “You watch, I’ll be able to fight,” she said.

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Thursday, July 07, 2022