October, 2019: From Allahabad airport in Uttar Pradesh, it takes less than an hour by road to reach Ghosiya. It’s one of the large villages in Chail tehsil of Kaushambi district.
Kaushambi is an important cultural heritage site that finds mention in the Mahabharata and in Buddhist literature. Tourists flock here for the famous Ashokan Pillar, the Digambar Jain temple associated with the sixth Jain Tirthankar and the fort built by king Udayan of Vatsa state.
I was here to dig deeper into a gangrape that has sent shock waves across the country.
Three weeks ago on September 21, a minor, poor Dalit girl was in a field collecting grass when three men — at least one of them nearing 30 — pounced on her, forcibly undressed her, raped her and filmed the act.
It happened in broad daylight, around 11 am. The video was circulated in the area and eventually went viral on the internet.
The accused, Mohammad Adil alias Chhotka alias ‘Aatankwadi’, Mohammad Adik alias ‘Badka’, and Mohammad Nazim, are behind bars.
They have been booked for gangrape and criminal intimidation, and under the Scheduled Castes (SC) Atrocities Act and Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Survivor’s House Barely Hundred Metres From Site Of Crime
The girl’s house is located amid a cluster of about hundred mud houses, all belonging to the Pasi community – a scheduled caste that was once considered untouchable.
Though the community has strength in numbers — it’s the second-largest Dalit group in UP after Jatavs, forming close to 16 per cent of the state’s entire SC population — it remains marginalised.
Residents use ‘Saroj’ as their surname and call themselves ‘Harijan’, which is considered more respectful than Pasi even though police records continue to use the term Pasi. (The community will henceforth be called Harijan in this report).
The house declares at its entrance that it was built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in 2017. It stands only a small patch of grass away from Ghosiya — where the accused live — but falls in Sarai Akil town.
Neither the girl (henceforth called Geeta, which is not her real name) nor her parents are at home. Neighbours say they are in town to get a bank account opened. The government recently sanctioned her a sum of Rs 4.12 lakh as compensation for the gangrape.
Geeta’s two younger sisters emerge from inside the house. Neighbours say the youngest, who is about seven years old, has stopped going to school after the incident. The older one quit school years ago, just like Geeta.
A neighbour, about the same age as Geeta, says she was among those who had brought her home after the crime.
When Geeta screamed and gathered locals, who caught one of the men red-handed, someone sent word for her and other girls from the colony. “We rushed to the spot and saw her sobbing loudly and trying to cover her body with her hands. I rushed back to take a salwar. We girls then brought her home,” she says.
Most neighbours say they are scared to talk about the incident but give no reasons. None is willing to give their names. They point to the field where the men overpowered Geeta. It’s barely 100 metres away.
Then they point to the colony where the men live. It’s right behind the field.
The residents do not know the accused. “We have nothing to do with them. We never go to their basti,” the man says while others nod.
Even now, they do not know their names.
“When she screamed, men and women from our side ran to the spot but no one from the Muslim caste came,” complains a man in his 30s.
The man, as others from his community, refers to the perpetrators’ religion as a caste. Like the norm in most villages, the communities live segregated.
Conversation reveals that the Muslims are considered higher caste; they are rich, own property and agricultural land, and avoid any touch with the Harijans.
At one point, the man says, it is for this specific reason that the rapist didn’t remove the girl’s kurta.
The area is Muslim-dominated. Locals say about 65 per cent of Ghosiya’s 600-odd houses belong to Muslims and the rest to Harijans. Kumhars and Dhobis — also scheduled castes — form a tiny minority. Kaushambi district overall has about 85 per cent Hindus and 13 per cent Muslims as per 2011 census.
Most Harijans in the area say they have no experience to recount with other ‘higher’ castes such as Pandits and Thakurs as they have spent all their lives in their non-descript mud houses and the fields in which they labour for a pittance.
The Survivor Recounts The Ordeal
Outside the colony where Geeta lives, a group of about 20-25 men are sitting on two wooden cots. Initially they feign ignorance of the incident but, after some persuasion, admit that they all received the video on their phones the same day of the crime.
One of the men, who says he wants the perpetrators to be hanged, agrees to take me to the house of a local activist where he says Geeta is currently present.
The house belongs to a couple from the Pasi caste who are local workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party that is in power in the state. The couple, however, request not to be named as they have damning things to say about some senior leaders of the party who did not help Geeta that day.
Geeta is sitting with her mother, her face covered with a stole.
She says the accused were strangers to her. She avoids going to the field alone but that day, she was running late and missed the other girls. It’s a short walk from the colony but heavy grass obstructs the view.
“I was cutting grass using a sickle. These men came from behind and covered my mouth with hands. They threatened to kill me and forced themselves on me,” she says.
When she pleaded them to leave her for bhagwan’s (god’s) sake (“hamne kaha bhaiya bhagwan ke liye chhod do”), the men told her to beg in the name of Allah instead.
They, however, did not spare her even when she did.
Watch her statement here:
The 2-minute-13-second video that went viral shows Geeta pinned to the ground and a man, who has been identified as Mohammad Adil alias ‘Chhotka’ alias ‘Aatankwadi,’ holding her.
A man making the video, identified as Mohammad Nizam, isn’t visible but can be heard talking throughout.
“Allah ki kasam khaake main kehti hun, aisa mere saath mat karo bhaiya… (I swear in Allah’s name, don’t do this with me, brother),” Geeta says in the video.
“Tu galti kar rahi hai. Hum log nahi hote to kam se kam bees ladke ikattha hote aur tere baap ke paas le jaate…(You are making a mistake. Had we not been here, at least 20 men would have raped you and taken you to your father),” one of the men says.
“Aapki behan beti hai na, bas karo…(you have sisters and daughters, stop it),” Geeta says, and further pleads, “Bhaiya mere saath mat karo, ab to jao, aapke haath pair jodti hun (Brother, don’t do this with me. Go at least now, I fold my hands and beg you).”
“Allah ki kasam khaati hun… (I swear in Allah’s name),” she begins again.
Adil interrupts her and tells her he needs only two more minutes. The other man declares it’s his turn now. At this point, Geeta begins to scream. The video shifts and eventually stops.
It is pertinent to mention here that the video shows only Chhotka and the survivor. It does not suggest the presence of a third man either by face or voice. When asked about it, Kaushambi Superintendent of police Pradeep Gupta said they have gone by the girl’s statement and thus arrested Badka too.
Another mobile-shot video shows the villagers thrashing a man, possibly Nizam. Adil, as per locals, managed to flee.
Geeta says she has been advised to use the compensation money for completing her school and, possibly, for further studies.
The Family And Activists Recall Harrowing Time At Police Station
Major lapses on the police’s part have come to light. The station house officer (SHO) of Sakai Akil police station, Manish Pandey, has been suspended. Action has also been taken against two constables, Ramnath Yadav and Dilip Gupta, and they have been sent to district lines.
This is what unfolded after Nizam was caught in the field, as per various accounts.
Geeta’s mother says the villagers thrashed Nizam and took him to Sarai Akil police station around 12 pm. SHO Pandey refused to hear them and instead made Nizam and the girl’s father sit in a room.
Nizam, she says, was made to sit on a chair while Geeta’s father on the floor. He was also allegedly beaten up — an allegation he made in front of the news cameras on the day itself.
The activist says the crowd had snatched Nizam’s phone at the spot itself but it was password-locked. When they handed the phone to the police, it was switched off.
How then did the video get leaked from the phone?
It remains a mystery to residents. When asked by this correspondent on 4 October, SP Gupta said this matter is under probe. A constable at the police station, however, said anonymously that some villagers managed to send the video to their phones before Nizam was brought to the police station.
“There is no question of the video leaking after the phone was seized by the police,” he said.
Meanwhile, with Geeta’s father detained, distraught residents rushed to Shivdani, who is chairman of Sarai Akil Nagar Panchayat and is affiliated to the BJP. He allegedly told the crowd they should go to the police station and he would join them in a while.
The villagers understood he had no plans to go — and he really never did — and proceeded to meet Sanjay Gupta at his janata durbar. Gupta is BJP member of legislative assembly (MLA) from Chail and holds the meeting every Saturday.
Gupta allegedly told the villagers he would look into the incident after making a few calls to the police. The crowd saw no immediate support and, this time, they turned to their community and went to the activist couple.
The couple went to the police station around 4 pm by which time SP Gupta had arrived. He proceeded to visit the site of the crime and ordered for the girl to be sent for medical examination. The first information report (FIR) was registered around 9.30 pm — more than nine hours after the crime.
Geeta’s parents, the activists and other villagers allege that SHO Pandey tried to cover up the case after taking bribe from the accused’s side.
A local journalist gives a different explanation. “Around 12 pm, I received information on the phone that villagers had thrashed a man on suspicion of child theft. I immediately reached the station and, like other journalists and even cops, thought Nizam was the innocent man and the girl’s father was one of the attackers. It was quite later in the day that Pandey informed us that it was actually a case of gangrape,” says Dheeraj Pathak, 21, who is a Sarai Akil-based stringer for various news publications and channels.
When asked, SP Gupta simply said that a departmental inquiry revealed ‘inappropriate behaviour’ by Pandey and thus he has been suspended.
Accused’s Neighbours Remain In Denial
Compared to the Harijan colonies in Ghosiya and adjoining Sarai Akil, the Muslim colony in Ghosiya where the accused live looks richer and cleaner. The first person who agrees to talk is Nabiullah, who is a tailor and something of an authority at a local mosque.
He says he is more than 60 years old and knows all the three accused very well.
Watch Nabiullah’s statement here:
He says Nizam is about 14, Adil alias Chhotka about 18 and his elder brother Badka around 20.
However, these ages are far lower than what the police have found. A police officer at Sarai Akil said that Nizam is 20, Chhotka is 27 while Badka is 28.
Nabiullah says Nizam and Badka are ‘innocents’ who have been wrongly framed. “Let’s take the 14-year-old one. He doesn’t understand things. He has been living in Mumbai for five years. He came back only for Moharram but has been trapped. It’s like you ask my name and take me somewhere. I trust you and go but get trapped. This is what has happened,” he says.
All three men, in fact, are residents of Mumbai who came home only for Moharram (September 10), he says.
He calls the gangrape an act of “naadani” — that is, silliness — and blames the Pasi community for trapping the men. “Ye hua hai unki badtameezi se, wo Pasi log (it has happened because of bad behaviour by Pasis),” he says.
He explains: It was the girl who called them to the spot. “If the girl didn’t call them, why had they gone?” he asks.
I ask, “Are you suggesting the men did no wrong?”
“No, they have indeed done wrong. Just that they could not understand,” Nabiullah says.
He has picked up this information from neighbours.
Just three-four houses away is Chhotka and Badka’s house. Their mother, Alisha Bano, breaks down when asked about the incident.
She lost her husband when Badka was five. Her eyesight is poor and, with sons working in Mumbai, she lives alone. The elder is an electrician while the younger a welder. “Allah knows what they have done, but I don’t know how I will live now,” she says amid sobs.
She says that after the crime, the police raided the house, misbehaved with her and threw things around. She has met her sons only once since the arrest.
Next, I ask a young man — he says he is 15 — standing outside Alisha’s house if he knows anything more about the accused. He says he lives in Mumbai and doesn’t know much.
Another man, who doesn’t give his name but gives his age as 25, says Chhotka was his classmate at the government primary school. “He used to steal guavas from the fields and thus earned the name ‘Aatankwadi’,” the man says, but offer nothing more. He claims no knowledge of the rape incident.
Incident Followed By A Similar One In Another District Of UP
The National Scheduled Castes Commission (NCSC) took suo motu cognizance of the case.
The next day, a special investigation team (SIT) was formed and five teams began searching for the absconding accused. A prize of Rs 25,000 was announced on them. The police decided to invoke the National Security Act against the accused.
On September 25, Mohammad Adil was arrested after an encounter with the police in which he got shot in both legs. The police recovered a revolver and a motorcycle from him. Within two days, the third accused, Akib, was arrested too.
SP Gupta said none of the three has any prior criminal record at the Sarai Akil station. He said he had not checked for similar record in Mumbai.
Around the same time of the Kaushambi incident, a strikingly similar crime was reported from Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur district. A Dalit woman had gone to fetch fodder in a field village when two men overpowered her at gunpoint, raped her in turns and filmed the act.
The video, again, was circulated and went viral.
The accused, Mohammad Naved and Mohammad Abdul, were arrested on September 26.
Update: The case was fast-tracked and verdict was delivered in just five months. The Kaushambi district court awarded life imprisonment to the three accused. They had been booked (FIR number 314/2019) under IPC sections 376, 376 (D), 354, 506, 286, sections 3(2)(5), 3(1) of the POCSO Act, and under the SC/ST prevention of atrocity Act and IT Act. You can read the report here.