“The Thakurs in the village threatened me and said, ‘We will beat you so much you will go bald,’” a middle-aged Nishad resident of the Peshawa Mai Ghat village in the Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh, told us. The Nishads are a riverine community who were categorised as a Scheduled Caste in the state in 2019. On 30 May, the Nishad man’s minor daughter was found raped and murdered a short distance away from his house. Four days later, three youth from the village, Ajay Singh, Vipin Kharwar and Vinay Pathak were arrested, and the men confessed to gang raping the teenager and her murder in a statement to the police. Singh belongs to the Thakur community while Pathak hails from a Brahmin family. Kharwar, whose community falls under the Scheduled Castes in that region, is quite well off compared to the Nishad family. The father of the victim told us that families of the accused were coercing him to change his testimony. “We are being intimidated. The upper-caste people are trying to suppress our voice,” he added.
According to the father, late on the night of 29 May, his daughter, who was a student of tenth standard, was sleeping in the courtyard of their house. His eight-year-old son was with the girl, while his wife was sleeping inside the house. The father and the victim’s grandmother were sleeping some distance away from the house, next to two mango trees that the family owns. “It was the time of the lockdown,” he said, referring to the countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. “There was no work or money. I have two mango trees and I thought we might make some money from them for the household. So, I had started sleeping next to the trees to guard them.” He told us that next morning, around 5 am, “When I came back home after my ablutions, I saw a crowd of people in the bamboo bushes and I heard my wife crying. I ran towards the crowd and my daughter’s body was lying there.”
The father continued, “There was a gamchha”—thin, coarse cotton towel—“around my daughter’s neck. Her tongue was protruding. Her entire body was scratched and there was dirt all over her eyes and mouth.” He told us that he broke down and was completely disoriented. “After some time, when I tried to lift her, there was a lot of blood below her waist. I collapsed again, I could not even lift her body.” The father said that after some time he gathered the courage to lift her again and brought her body to their house. He also told us that by now several people from the village had gathered there and someone had recognised that the gamchha around her neck belonged to Pathak.
The victim’s grandmother corroborated the father’s narrative. She told us that the girl’s body was completely wet and had nail marks from top to bottom. “All of us were crying. There were a lot of people there and they recognised that gamchha around her neck as the pandit’s gamchha,” she said, referring to Pathak. She broke down quite often while she talked about her granddaughter. “She always used to cook and serve me food. She would tell me about her school. I did not understand much, but she used to talk to me. She was good in studies, like my grandson. She used to do her work on time.” She added, “My heart knows what happened to my baby girl. We cannot show that grief to the world.”