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A tragedy in Mewat

In the aftermath of a Dalit girl’s abduction and rape, rumours and media disinformation plague Haryana’s Nuh

At about 6 am on July 7, 12-year-old Aparna (name changed) bicycled to a nearby small dairy farm in the unremarkable town of Nuh in Haryana’s Mewat. A day before, the girl had asked her grandmother to make kadhi for meals on Sunday. “I had asked her to go procure some sour curd for it. The farmers here give away curd that goes sour to the poor. But when she did not return after several hours, I started panicking,” says Laxmidevi (name changed), Aparna’s 68-year-old grandmother.

There are three members in Laxmidevi’s household, all women. Besides her and little Aparna, there is 25-year-old Asha (name changed). Aparna’s father died of an illness soon after she was born and her mother married into another family. Asha is Aparna’s cousin: the daughter of her father’s sister, who also died eight years ago. The family lives in a Jatav ghetto in Nuh, which has about 300 Jatav and 50 Muslim households.

A search ensued for Aparna at about 9 am. Laxmidevi went to the dairy farmer while relatives and neighbours looked for the child with no success. “The farmer said that he told Aparna that the curd would be ready the next day. She left but did not come here,” says Laxmidevi. After the entire neighbourhood was scanned with no trace of the girl, Laxmidevi and some relatives approached the police and registered an FIR at about 5 pm. Laxmidevi says: “I asked the police to help us with the search, but they refused saying they were busy with other matters.”

“Aparna is the reason for me to live,” reads a sentence from Laxmidevi’s statement in the FIR.

Aparna returned home at 8.30 pm that day. Frightened and in tears, she narrated a distressing account to her family. Shortly after leaving the dairy farm, the girl says she was kidnapped by two men on a motorcycle. They took her as far as Sohna, a town 25 km from Nuh, but had to turn back at several points because of police checkpoints. After hours on the bike, they brought her back to Nuh, she says, and took her to an empty house near the dairy farm. Another man joined the kidnappers and Aparna was allegedly gang-raped at gunpoint. The men told her they would kill her entire family if she told them what had happened. In the evening, when the men dispersed to bathe, Aparna escaped and returned home.

During her assault, Aparna says she had heard the names of the three assaulters: Imran (Dhakkan), Rizwan (Rijju) and Hakam (Mooli). The police claims that officers had heard of Imran because he had once installed bulbs at the police station. He was located and arrested on July 9 and so were the other two. The three confessed to their crimes and their statements were recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Two revelations came to light from the statements: First, the girl had been taken to the empty house belonging to a Special Police Officer (SPO), where Hakam was assigned to do interior work. (The SPO lives in the neighbouring town of Tauru.) Second, while Aparna had mentioned only three accused, the statements by the kidnappers revealed that there is a fourth (and absconding) accused named Amruddin (Tassa).

On July 8, the accused were booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Almuddin Khan, 45, is the SPO who owns the house where the alleged assault occurred. He says he came to know about the incident at about 9 pm on July 8. “The SHO of the Nuh police station called and told me about it. I came to Nuh and helped the police catch the accused,” he told Newslaundry. “The three used to hang out together. It’s really unfortunate what has happened.” The fourth accused, 24-year-old Amruddin, has fled to Hyderabad. The police has sent two teams to the city to nab him.

On July 14, a Hindustan Times report stated that despite the girl’s testimony, a medical examination had confirmed that the girl was not raped. DSP Dharambir Singh (Tauru), who is heading the investigation in the case, told Newslaundry that samples were taken from the girl’s body but the “final opinion” of the doctors is yet to arrive. Rape has not been confirmed but it has not been denied.

A Times of India report stated that the girl “had gone to meet the fourth accused, who was known to her”. The girl’s grandmother says this is untrue, and denies that the 12-year-old knew 24-year-old Amruddin. The police hasn’t stated this either in a brief it has prepared on the case.

A counselling report (dated July 8) of the girl accessed by Newslaundry does not state this too. It reads: “She had left for a dairy farm to get sour curd on the morning of July 7. While returning, two men grabbed her mouth and put a cloth over her eyes. They drove towards Sohna and then removed the cloth. They drove around all day and returned to Nuh in the evening and raped her in an empty room near the Chuhimal pond.”

On July 12, a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) notice to the DGP, Haryanam incorrectly stated that the victim was “gang raped for two days”. The notice cited “news reports”, though it is not clear which ones.

The arrested

Imran, Rizwan and Hakam live about half a kilometre away from Laxmidevi’s house. As their families come together in a house, the mothers of the three accused are crestfallen. They are convinced that their sons are innocent and were roped into the case because of Amruddin’s misdeeds.

Rizwan’s brother, 25-year-old Tarif, takes it a step further and claims Aparna is not 12 years old but 17. “She had an affair with Amruddin and had gone to meet him that morning.” So are the family and the counselling reports lying? Tarif says, “Yes, they are all working with the RSS. There were also two Hindu boys involved in the assault. But the family had gone to the police that night and took their names out.”

The grieving families believe this too. They say their sons couldn’t have done something so heinous. They would smoke cigarettes, but never touched alcohol or drugs.

Imran Khan is a plump 35-year-old who is one of the three earning members in his family. He was married when he was 19 and has a son (8) and a daughter (16) who go to school. The family does not own any land and Imran finds work only when under-construction houses need their interiors done. It fetches him Rs200-300 a day. The other two brothers make a similar amount: one works at a vegetable market and the other at a tailor shop.

Rizwan is a thin 29-year-old who makes a living out of cooking rotis at a hotel in Nuh. It earns him Rs7,000-8,000 a month. He married 10 years ago and has four sons aged seven, five, three and one. None of them go to school. Out of his five sisters, two are married, the other two dropped out of school but one is continuing her education. Rizwan’s family is landless. He has two brothers: the elder one works at a factory and the younger one is a barber in Nuh.

Hakam is a thin 28-year-old. Hakam’s family is probably the most well-off in the room. They have a small shop and also own some land. Hakam usually finds work as a labourer in under-construction buildings and also installs lights in local weddings. He was married when he was 17 and has three children—two boys and a girl. His family says that he would gamble in his free time. Hakam’s has three sisters who are married and a brother who works as a labourer.

The aggrieved

Laxmidevi has little to call her own besides the contents of the tiny, dark room in which she lives with Aparna and Asha. There’s single bed, a fridge and a cooler. In the corner lie small soot-covered portraits of Hindu gods, and a cement rack on the wall is loaded with notebooks, books and a school bag. There’s another small room above which has currently been given to two police officers assigned to provide protection to the family. Protection from whom? “From anyone who the accused might send to harm them,” says one officer after I disturb his afternoon siesta.

About 60 men from the Bajrang Dal had shown up a few days ago. “They told me that I need not worry about anything and that they are by my side,” says Laxmidevi. While Nuh has a disturbing history of casteist violence, Laxmidevi says her family has never faced explicit violence. Muslims here also peacefully coexist with the Dalits. She says: “I don’t think my grand-daughter’s assault was communally-motivated.”

However, Laxmidevi and her neighbours claim the area is not safe. There are bootleggers in a dozen houses in the ghetto which attract rowdy men from all over town. One neighbour says: “There are these Muslims and bhangis who come from outside and create a ruckus here. They ogle, abuse and pick fights. When we approach the police, they are taken away to the thana but return home after a few hours and things go back to as they were. The bootleggers also pay a fine to the police but the shops in their homes never close.” Over this, there is the dirty water supply and three hour-long power cuts in the ghetto everyday.

Laxmidevi has worked as a labourer since her husband died 30 years ago. She used to carry bricks and earn Rs10 a day when she was younger, but once she underwent an operation for a kidney ailment, her body couldn’t handle the physical exertion. She then worked as a maid in three households. About five years ago, both her eyes were clouded by cataracts. Another rounds of medical interventions followed. “When I returned to the households where I worked, they told me they had hired a new maid in my absence.”

Since then, Laxmidevi has been working with halwais in local weddings. “I get Rs500 for one wedding. These days I’m lucky if there’s a wedding in Nuh at all.” Over this sum, she gets a pension through a government scheme of Rs2,000 for herself and Rs1,100 for Aparna, since she is a widow and Aparna is an orphan.

But the household’s survival is sustained by 24-year-old Asha. Thanks to her tuition classes, Asha funded her bachelor’s degree in Education and a Master’s in Political Science from a local college. She knows how to work on a computer and earns Rs12,000 every month in the nearby village of Ujina. But the assault on the little sister has affected her life too. “She did not go to work last week because she wanted to look after the little one. Her employer has told her that her job could be in trouble if she does now show up this week,” Laxmidevi tells me.

Aparna is also a good student, says Laxmidevi. She studied in a government school until Class 5 but this year, she started Class 6 in a nearby private school. The education, says Laxmidevi, is expensive. The family pays Rs1,200 every month, and over that they spent Rs8,000 on her new uniforms, books and shoes.

During our conversation, Laxmidevi breaks down several times. Besides the assault on Aparna, there is also some grisly hearsay in the ghetto that upsets her. She says: “When we complained to the police that bootlegging in the ghetto must stop for us to feel safe, the households that sell alcohol started circulating lies against us. They say my granddaughter fell in love with one of the accused and that she had it coming. Can you imagine what the little girl will feel if she hears this?”

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