Agra, November 2021: About a year-and-a-half ago during the first lockdown, the Raghuvanshi household received a letter from the local court. It informed them that their daughter, 24-year-old Varsha, had married a man named Fayeem Qureshi.
It had been two years since the death of Varsha’s father. Her elder brother Dushyant, the sole earning member of the family now, showed the letter to his mother. The two confronted Varsha about it.
“I was shocked. I had no idea my sister was seeing someone, that too a man from outside the Hindu community,” Dushyant told this correspondent on 13 November.
Varsha told them she had made up her mind. As an adult, she was free to marry whoever she wanted.
Fayeem had never contacted the family with the proposal, says Dushyant.
Dushyant’s family, who are Thakurs by caste, live in Alam Pada colony of Shahganj area in Uttar Pradesh’s Agra district.
Before moving to Alam Pada, the family lived in Kolihai colony that is about two kilometres from Chilli Pada colony within Shahganj.
Varsha studied in Tulsi Devi Girls Inter College, the route to which passed through Chilli Pada.
Fayeem’s family, who are natives of Jhansi, have been living in Chilli Pada for five years on rent. The colony is fully Muslim-populated except for two houses – one belonging to a Sindhi family, the other to a Bengali family.
Fayeem and his younger brother Nayeem work as automobile repair mechanics. Their father, Kayyum Qureshi, is an autorickshaw driver.
Dushyant says that Varsha’s choice was unacceptable to him or his family. Before his death in an accident, Dushyant’s father had begun to look for matches for her. Two elder sisters of Varsha were married off by them.
Dushyant is the only brother of four sisters; a sister younger to Varsha is in college.
“We told Varsha that we could not stop her from marrying Fayeem, but none of us approved of the match. We told her we would not be participating in the wedding and she was not welcome in the house anymore,” says Dushyant.
Varsha left the house and never showed up again.
On 12 November, 2021, Varsha died at Fayeem’s house.
Dushyant says at 6.30 pm, he received a call from Nayeem, informing him that his sister had committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling.
Before rushing to her, Dushyant called a friend, Shailu Pandit, who is a member of the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit.
Dushyant says when he reached the house, there was no member at home. Varsha’s body was lying on the floor.
“On the bed were kept four chairs. Three pillows were lying on top of the chairs. Despite this, the roof was quite far. There is no way my sister, who was four feet in height, could have reached the rope,” says Dushyant.
By that time, Shailu Pandit had reached the spot with about a dozen men. Dushyant’s mother had arrived too.
The family told the residents that they were taking the body with them and would be cremating it as per Hindu rituals.
“The residents began to object, saying we should wait for Fayeem’s family to return. Some even laughed at us. We told them we would be dragging the family to court for murder,” Dushyant says.
Residents began to pelt stones on them, he says. “Someone even shot in our direction; a bullet went right past me,” he says.
Dushyant says he and his mother fled the spot while the police took the body for post-mortem. “I was forced to leave my two-wheeler in the colony. It was only late evening that I came with some policemen to pick it up,” he says.
Next morning, Dushyant collected the body from the mortuary and took it straight to the cremation ground. The body was consigned to flames amid police security.
“My sister was born a Hindu. She died a Hindu,” says Dushyant when asked about the family’s insistence on cremation.
When this correspondent visited Chilli Pada on 13 November, residents denied stone-pelting from their side. They said that Shailu Pandit and Gaurav Rajawat, both members of the youth wing of BJP in Agra, entered the colony with an intention to create ruckus.
Shabi Jafri, a resident, said the mob entered Chilli Pada from Soran Katra market and targeted Muslim-owned shops.
“They hit the shops with sticks. They kicked the vehicles parked in Chilli Pada. They raised slogans abusing Muslims. All this happened when the police were here,” he said.
Arif Baig, owner of a garments shop in Soran Katra, said the mob damaged the counter and assaulted his young nephews who were standing at the counter and watching the mob. Baig shared a video clip that testifies to what he says.
“The same evening, policemen came and requested us to fix the counter as soon as we could so no trace of the violence remains. We obliged for the sake of peace,” said Baig.
On Saturday, however, Baig gave a written complaint to the police. He said the police had promised him that it would be converted into a first information report (FIR) with Gaurav Rajawat and Shailu Pandit as key accused.
“Why were we targeted when we had nothing to do with either Fayeem or Chilli Pada? The goons targeted us only because we are Muslims like them,” said Baig.
Fayeem’s house was locked.
Neighbours said they heard no noise from the house when Varsha “committed suicide”.
Fareeduddin, a neighbour, said the colony did not know about any woman named Varsha living in the house.
“We learnt about her only when police came for the body. We had never seen her. Nobody in the colony had seen her,” said Fareeduddin (watch his statement below).
Other neighbours agreed with Fareeduddin.
The first FIR in the case was filed on the complaint of Dushyant, accusing Fayeem, his father Kayyum, his brother Naeem, and his mother and sister of harassing Varsha for dowry and killing her.
Dushyant said he was yet to collect a copy of the FIR from the police station and would share it with this correspondent when he gets it.
Agra senior superintendent of police (SSP) Sudhir Kumar Singh told the media yesterday that all three male members of Fayeem’s family had been arrested under IPC section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), among other charges.
Khushboo told this correspondent that her sister Varsha was unhappy at Fayeem’s house from the very beginning.
“Right from the beginning, she complained of ill-treatment at the hands of Fayeem’s family. There were too many cultural differences. While we don’t even use onion or garlic in the food, Varsha was made to clean and cook meat every day. She told us many times that she hated doing it,” says Khushboo.
Fayeem’s mother taunted her all the time for not “bringing anything”.
“His family would taunt Khushboo that she had come to the house empty-handed and increased expenses. Twice, my mother gave Varsha some money without telling my brother,” Khushboo said.
The mother and the daughter met in the market as Varsha was barred from entering the house.
Dushyant said that last year, Varsha wanted to tie rakhi on his wrist on Raksha Bandhan. He let her do that, but they met in the market and carried out the rituals there.
Khushboo says Varsha told her that a maulvi came to the house regularly to teach her namaz and Islam. “Varsha said she tried her best, but it was too difficult for her. Any mistake from her side would end up in a thrashing by Fayeem,” says Khushboo.
At Fayeem’s house, Varsha was given the name Zoya.
After her marriage, she stayed at home all the time. Earlier, she would teach at a local private school. Varsha had studied till Class 12, Khushboo said.
“There were other issues too. She had no freedom, no space for herself. Fayeem never liked her talking to us. On many occasions, he snatched her phone. Varsha would secretly call us using someone else’s phone. So the calls were always short,” she says.
She says Varsha’s mother-in-law frequently took her for “jhaad-phoonk” (to an occult practitioner). “The baba would give her all sorts of things to eat. Taking her for jhaad-phoonk was Fayeem family’s standard solution for all her grievances.”
Asked if Varsha had ever shared anything good about her stay with Fayeem at all, Khushboo says she never did.
Dushyant says that “two-three” months ago, he had managed to separate the couple on Varsha’s request.
“I got them divorced in a court. Only that I did not know the process. I got Varsha to give an affidavit in the court that she was willingly separating from Fayeem and got the notary’s seal on it. I then sent her to my elder sister’s house in Indore.”
“But Fayeem went to Indore and got her back. Even my elder sister did not come to know when Varsha left. It was then that I talked to his younger brother Nayeem. He said that the notary seal meant nothing. I left it at that,” says Dushyant.
He says he and Fayeem have never talked or met till date.
“Had he called, I would have told him to return my sister if he couldn’t keep her.”