Three Brahmin men assaulted and killed Shalu, a 30-year-old pregnant woman from the Kahar community, in the Barnia village of Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district, on 5 October 2020, according to her husband, Manoj Kashyap. He said that the men assaulted him and his wife because he had used a public handpump despite being a member of a backward-caste community—Kahars are categorised as Other Backward Classes. The police refused to categorise the incident as caste violence. But Kashyap was unequivocal in terming his wife’s death a caste crime. “If this is not casteist, then what is it?” he said.
Kashyap is a labourer in his mid-thirties and Shalu used to do stitching related work. They got married in 2009, and did not have any children. He told us they lived in a one-bedroom house with his aged mother and his brother, who is mentally unwell. “I am the only man in my house—my father is dead, my brother doesn’t understand anything.” Kashyap said they are the only family from the Kahar community in the village. “There are 200 families of Brahmins. They are more in number, so they are always domineering,” he said. “They think that we should work in their house, fill water for them. They are also offended that ‘Manoj doesn’t work in our house.’ I also lived in a suppressed manner due to this.”
Three Brahmin men have been arrested for killing Shalu—Sunil Mishra, Anil Mishra and Sushil Mishra. Kashyap told us that two weeks before his wife’s death he had gone to use the government handpump, when Anil’s wife, Archana Mishra, and his son stopped him. “Anil’s son tried to hit me with a slipper,” he told us. “When I asked him to stop, his mother also started fighting with me.” Kashyap told me they argued. “I did not know that these people would do this to me.”
Kashyap narrated the events of 5 October. He said the tap at his house was not working that day. “I went to the sarkaari handpump to take a bath and get water for the house, which is located on the corner of a road in front of their house,” he said, referring to a government-installed handpump near the Mishra home. “It is not even on their land, anyone can use the sarkaari handpump. You cannot refuse anyone,” he added. Kashyap told us Anil’s son again hit him with a slipper. “Their child again misbehaved with me, and his mother was also present there, she also started saying things.”
After he returned home that day, Kashyap said, the three Mishra brothers and Archana came to his house. “These three brothers attacked me,” he said. “I ran into my room, but they beat me mercilessly.” Kashyap said, Shalu, who was five-months pregnant at the time, intervened and said, “Don’t beat him, don’t beat him.” But, Kashyap said, “They did not listen to my pregnant wife. Three of them started charging lathis at her. After that, my wife was not in a condition to speak. I had no idea what to do.” Kashyap said he first took his wife to the police station, where they directed him to take her to a doctor first. She died that day.
A gauze was wrapped on Kashyap’s head when we met later that month. Stains of blood splatters were visible on the pants he was wearing. “I have a six-inch deep wound on my head, but the police did not get any medical treatment done for me,” he said. “I am only able to talk with the help of a medicine. There’s no energy in my body.”
Kashyap told us he did not trust the police. The first-information report that was initially registered in the case booked the four Mishras under sections 304 and 323 of the Indian Penal Code that pertain to punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and punishment for voluntarily causing hurt, respectively. “They have shown sections 304 and 323 of the IPC, even though my wife has been killed and so has my child,” Kashyap said. “They haven’t even added sections 302 and 316 to the FIR,” he told us when we met, referring to sections of the IPC that pertain to punishment for murder and “causing death of quick unborn child by an act amounting to culpable homicide.” Section 316 was later added to the FIR, which is applicable in a stage of pregnancy when movements of the fetus have been felt. Kashyap told us that he was upset that 302 was not imposed in the matter.
When we met, Kashyap said that only two of the brothers had been arrested. “They are a threat to our lives,” he said. “Their animals are at home. Their children are at home. Someone is feeding them. Why is the police not catching them?” He added, “The police are also not investigating anything properly—they do not tell us anything at all. No one listens to us here.” Kashyap said a policeman had been deployed outside his house after his wife’s death, but that did not make him feel safe. “We live inside our house, in fear. There is no boundary outside our house,” he said. “You all are here, which is why I have stepped out, otherwise I was still not able to muster the courage to get out of the house.”
Shortly after our conversation, the third brother was also arrested. That month, Adesh Kumar Singh, the station house officer of the Pasgawan police station, under whose jurisdiction Barnia falls, denied that Kashyap’s caste was a factor in the case. “This is not a case of caste violence. Kuch kaha suni hui”—some argument took place—“and this incident happened.” Referring to Archana, he said, “One woman is absconding and her arrest is pending, that will also be done soon.” In February this year, Archana was granted anticipatory bail. The court noted that she was present during the crime, but did not assault Shalu. Singh said the matter is still pending in the court. When asked for an update in the case, he said he had explained everything to Kashyap and then hung up.
Kashyap was in despair when we met. “If I knew that something like this was going to happen, I would have gone to a relative’s place instead of going to that tap,” he said. “It’s possible that if there was a boundary wall, it’s possible that my wife’s could have been saved.” Throughout our conversation, he repeatedly mentioned Shalu’s pregnancy. “I got married in 2009. After so many years, I was getting some happiness in life,” he told us. “These people bully all poor people in the village. But we didn’t know that they would not even tolerate this happiness in our house.”
Kashyap said that he has difficulty speaking about the incident. “There’s no energy in my body. My hands and feet are shivering. When I think of all that, I can’t even speak. What has happened? Will no one let the poor live?” he said. He said that he had received no government support either. “Neither does the government listen to us, nor does the administration,” he said. “You must have seen what happened in the Hathras case. This is what happens to the poor, they get no respect. Police also only supports upper castes.” Kashyap said he had once approached a political leader for support in the case, but it did not yield any result. “If something had happened to the pandits, he would have spent the whole day and night for them.”