KATRA Saadatganj, a nondescript village in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh, dominated the headlines in national and international press for almost a week in June. On May 28, the bodies of two girls, one aged 12 and the other 14, were found hanging from a tree. Asphyxia was stated to be the immediate cause of death. The girls, who went missing the previous evening after they had apparently gone to relieve themselves in the fields, were allegedly raped and hanged from the tree. The Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which rules the State, found itself besieged by criticism over the brazenness of the double crimes. The Akhilesh Yadav government came under intense attack, more so because Badaun is represented in the Lok Sabha by the Chief Minister’s cousin Dharmendra Yadav. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Dharmendra Yadav rushed to the village to commiserate with the grieving families, who were erroneously described by the media as Dalits. Dalit groups were quick to issue statements giving details about the rising crimes against their community members in the State, which although a serious issue, is not relevant to the Badaun case. In fact, the State government had to issue a clarification to the Union Minister of State for Home stating why provisions under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act could not be applied in the case as the victims and the perpetrators of the crime belonged to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Five persons, including two police constables (Chatrapal Yadav and Sarvesh Yadav), were arrested in the case. Two of the accused, who had reportedly confessed to the crime, were charged under appropriate sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The services of the two policemen, who were accused of abetting the crime, have been terminated. Almost all the staff in the Katra Saadatganj police post have been suspended. The State government removed the Chief Secretary as well as the Principal Secretary (Home) and handed over the inquiry into the incident to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It declared that a fast-track court would be set up to deal with the case. The Senior Superintendent of Police, Badaun, declined to confirm the details of the post-mortem report, as reported in sections of the media, about the girls being alive at the time of being hanged. At the time of writing the report, the autopsy of the two victims had been conducted and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) samples of the accused were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Hyderabad.
The incident got its initial publicity from two journalists belonging to the village. They in turn alerted the electronic media.
The girls, who were cousins, belonged to the Maurya, or Sakya, community. The village, with a population of around 3,000, is dominated by the Maurya community. There are a few Yadav families as well. Most of the houses are made of brick. The victims’ families were in possession of a parcel of land. The family income, as in the case of other Maurya households, was supplemented by agricultural and non-agricultural labour.
On May 27, at around 7 p.m., the girls, dressed in bright-coloured clothes, went out to the fields. When they failed to return even after darkness had set it, the parents began to get worried. At that time, the girls’ uncle informed them that he had seen the girls being dragged into the fields, and that he recognised one of them. Babu Ram, the uncle, told Frontline that he was on his patch of land when he heard some cries. He flashed his torchlight in the direction from where the sound emanated and saw one of his nieces being dragged by the hair. He tried to rescue her but was beaten up and threatened with a country-made pistol. He could recognise one of the five perpetrators.
On the basis of his eyewitness account, the family approached the village police post, located some 500 metres from their house. But the two constables manning the post abused them. They were told that the girls would return after two hours. The family then went in search of the girls at the spot where they were last seen by Babu Ram. Unable to locate them, they returned home. The constables allegedly thwarted their attempts to contact the higher authorities in the headquarters of Osayat tehsil, in which the village falls. “The police people listen to only members of their own caste. They treat us with scorn,” a member of the Maurya community said. By and large, Mauryas have never benefited from any political party. They feel that the administration is biased towards the dominant Yadav caste. Their complaint is typical of what is experienced in most parts of the country, where community and caste considerations often come in the way of dispensing justice. Mauryas, who claim direct descent from the Sakya clan, are the second largest community after Yadavs in Mainpuri, the Lok Sabha constituency represented by S.P. chief and Akhilesh Yadav’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mulayam Singh was elected from the constituency in 1996, 2004, 2009 and 2014. Yadavs, along with Kushwahas, Sainis, Koeris and Kurmis, constitute a significant OBC population in the constituency.
Katra Saadatganj’s geographical and demographic coordinates are interesting. This is seen as one of the reasons for the attention being given to the village by certain political parties, notwithstanding the gruesomeness of the incident in which the logic of caste competition appears to have been at play. The village falls within the Dataganj Assembly constituency, which is represented by Sinod Kumar Shakya, or “Deepu”, of the BSP. The identification with Mayawati and the BSP could be easily explained. “Mayawati told us she would sit here in protest if justice was not done for us,” said Sunita, who lost her only child. Babu Ram wants a gun licence as he feels “they are going to get me”. “We did not allow the police to bring down the bodies until Deepu arrived. He is from our community,” said Babu Ram.
The village falls in the Aonla Lok Sabha constituency, represented by Dharampal Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party, but comes under the administrative jurisdiction of Badaun. Given the nature of community loyalties shaped by the dominance of Yadavs, Mauryas and other OBC groups have naturally gravitated towards parties other than the S.P. However, this does not mean that the S.P. does not have a support base among Mauryas. In 2011, the party said it would launch a campaign for the inclusion of 17 most backward classes, including Mauryas, Rajbhars and Sainis, in the S.C. category.
Mauryas, although poor, are not landless. Most of the families own up to two bighas of land and are not dependent on Yadavs for either work or livelihood. But being poor, they struggle to maintain their livelihoods.
Virender, brother of the younger victim, was unable to afford higher education. “I wanted to study science, but gave up,” he said. Now, he does agricultural work and some odd jobs. Education is sought after, but the opportunities are few.
“Why should we work in their fields. We have a sharecropping arrangement with our community members. Yadavs do not treat us well. It is their government, their police, their administration. They first ask which caste we belong to and then write a report,” some youngsters, mainly girls, told Frontline . Some of them also complained that because the police were from the Yadav community, Yadavs flaunted their caste connections. “There have been cases where Yadav boys have entered our homes and misbehaved with the women,” a few women said. But this was the first time that such a gruesome incident happened. The accused had migrated to the village a few years ago after their lands had got submerged by the Ganga. They had no previous history of violent crime.
A section of the backward castes and upper caste Hindus comprise the nouveau riche in the State, though by and large 46 per cent of the population is landless. The majority of the registered contractors for work are Yadavs. But to say that the crime rate has risen because of the nouveau riche is too simplistic an explanation. “Nearly 70 per cent of the State’s population consists of small peasants and agricultural workers and the majority of them are Dalits,” Brijlal Bharti, State secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU), said. It is estimated that 7 per cent of the population owns nearly 46 per cent of the total land.
A four-member fact-finding team of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, consisting of general secretary Jagmati Sangwan and secretary Sehba Farooqi, and two members of the AIAWU, has demanded that the policemen who have been booked under Section 120 B, IPC, should be named as the accused and that Section 166 A be invoked in the case. This, they said, would be in keeping with the recommendations of the Justice Verma Commission. They also demanded immediate financial assistance to the victims’ families, saying payment of compensation and rehabilitation should be uniform for all rape victims and that the authorities should not “pick and choose”.
Other demands have included setting up of fast-track courts and providing proper security to the family members of the victims as policemen are among the accused. “Our experience all over the country shows that the role of the police is very central. Had they responded in time, the girls could have been saved. Therefore, it is imperative that the policepersons charged with abetment in this case be treated as the accused. The police also tried to pass it off as an honour crime,” said Sangwan.
A string of incidents involving crimes against women were reported in quick succession from Azamgarh, Bareilly, Lakhimpur Kheri, Etawah and Greater Noida, all within a week after the Katra Saadatganj rape.
U.N. says 'appalling'
In a surprising development, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the Badaun incident as “appalling” and criticised Mulayam Singh for his “boys will be boys” remark made during the course of an election rally in Moradabad while opposing capital punishment. More interestingly, the United States State Department said it was “horrified” at the reports of sexual violence and murders in India. The remark was made by its deputy spokesperson in response to a question. While internationally India has been drawing attention since the December 16, 2012, New Delhi gang rape, the systemic reasons for increasing violence against women the world over have either been glossed over or often selectively addressed by the countries concerned.
Earlier, the U.N., taking unusual cognisance of the Badaun incident, issued a statement, which also highlighted the need for toilets. Bindeshwar Pathak, a well-known philanthropist, declared his intention to construct toilets in the village. The lack of sanitation has never got priority in the agenda of any government, despite the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan, which puts the onus of building toilets on the people themselves. There is another international campaign that believes in shaming people who defecate in the open. With no drainage system in place and no clean drinking water sources, the link between crimes against women and the absence of toilets has become a new talking point. This at best reduces the argument to the level of absurdity, deflecting the real reasons for growing crimes against women even in places where women do not defecate in the open. The high rate of crimes against women in Assam or Delhi or even Kerala cannot certainly be attributed to open defecation.
High rate of convictions In fact, the National Crime Records Bureau data for 2012 show that Uttar Pradesh has a high rate of rape conviction (50.3 per cent), almost on a par with some of the north-eastern States, barring Assam. It shares a high incidence of crimes against women with Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Kerala and Assam. In fact, it ranks below several States in the overall rate of crime against women. Madhya Pradesh has consistently reported the highest number of rape cases in the country.
It is unfortunate that for several days the media kept reporting that the victims were Dalits. While the mistaken caste identity did not mitigate the nature of the crime, it became fodder for several caste-based organisations who sought to convert the incident into a “Dalit versus Yadav” issue. Outside broadcasting (OB) vans and television crews parked themselves in the vicinity of the tree where the girls were found hanging, and some political leaders even got themselves photographed under the tree.