Accused out on bail for 8 years; tareekh-pe-tareekh for the minor victims' family in Budaun gangrape-murder case

What happens after the last reporter goes away? In a series titled 'Twice Cursed', Gaon Connection revisits the families of the victims of rape, now forgotten. Despite the 'stringent' POCSO Act, the family of two minor girls, who were allegedly gangraped and murdered in 2014 in Budaun, Uttar Pradesh, are still awaiting justice.

Shivani GuptaShivani Gupta   7 Oct 2022 10:40 AM GMT

Accused out on bail for 8 years; tareekh-pe-tareekh for the minor victims family in Budaun gangrape-murder case

Sohan Lal and his brother Jeevan Lal are fighting a legal case against the three accused for the past eight years. All photos: Abhishek Verma

Katra Sadatganj (Budaun) and Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

The lone wooden window in the doorless room is tightly shut. Barely any daylight can penetrate the gloom. And, Sohan Lal doesn't enter this room if he can help it.

Because this was his daughter's room who eight years ago was found hanging from a mango tree barely 600 metres away from his home in Katra Sadatganj village in Budaun district. Her cousin was also found hanging with her. It is alleged that they were gangraped and killed.

Every morning when Sohan Lal walks past that tree on his way to his four-bigha farm land (1 bigha = 0.25 hectare), he averts his eyes but the pain in his heart starts afresh.

His 12-year-old daughter and 14-year old niece (brother's daughter) were found strung up on the tree with their dupattas, on May 28, 2014. They had left home the previous evening to relieve themselves in the open as they didn't have a toilet at home, and never returned.

"When I saw their hanging bodies, I collapsed," Sohan Lal recalled.

Every morning Sohan Lal walks past this tree, where dead bodies of his daughter and niece were found hanging.

Sohan Lal and his younger brother Jeevan Lal, are fighting a legal case against the three accused in the Budaun gangrape and murder case. The trial is on under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. They have been fighting for eight years.

This 'stringent' Act, meant to protect children from sexual offences, has a provision for speedy trial and stiff punishment. It was enacted after the 2012 Delhi gangrape and murder, the Nirbhaya case. An offence under the POCSO Act is non-bailable. And the trial should ideally conclude within a year of the offence.

But for the tens of thousands of families, like that of Sohan Lal, the reality is very different. As part of a new series – Twice Cursed – Gaon Connection goes back to the homes of forgotten rape victims. The story of the 2014 Budaun case is the second in the series.

Also Read: Two years after the Hathras gangrape and killing, a family is transformed unrecognisably and forever

The dilapidated room that once belonged to the two dead minor girls.

"The (Budaun) court is over forty kilometres from our home. It costs us five hundred rupees every time we have to go there. We have a hearing every month, and invariably, on that day we are given another date – tareekh pe tareekh," Jeevan Lal, father of the 14-year-old victim, told Gaon Connection. "And this has been going on for the past eight years," he said, frustration all over his face.

Not very far from Sohan Lal and Jeevan Lal's home is where Urvesh Yadav, one of the accused lives.

On September 20, when Gaon Connection visited him at four in the evening, he was sitting on the verandah with friends. The air was thick with the smell of alcohol.

Urvesh Yadav, one of the accused in the 2014 Budaun gangrape murder case.

"I was in jail for three months. But I came clean in the lie detector test," Yadav said. "I did not know anything about the incident. I was sleeping in my house at that time," he told Gaon Connection.

Since the incident, Yadav got married and has fathered a child. "Koi tension nahi humko (I am not worried)," he smiled.

But a look at the official data under the POCSO Act is anything but assuring. In July this year, the central government informed the Lok Sabha that as many as 47,221 cases were registered in the year 2020 under the POCSO with a conviction rate of 39.6 per cent. That same year, Uttar Pradesh (where Budaun is located) topped the list with 6,898 registered cases, followed by Maharashtra (5,687) and Madhya Pradesh (5,648).

While the conviction rate is about 40 per cent, cases under POCSO Act with pending trials are on the rise. By the end of 2020, there were 170,000 cases pending trial, which was 57.4 per cent more than those in 2018 (108,129), Union minister for women and child development Smriti Irani informed the Lok Sabha.

"The Act [POCSO] provides for the establishment of special courts for the purpose of speedy trial, wherein the matters are to be disposed of within one year," Delhi-based Pragya Parijat, a POCSO lawyer practising at the Supreme Court of India, told Gaon Connection.

"But, generally, lengthy procedures, complicated matters, and structural lacunae make it difficult to dispose of the matter in a speedy manner in the fast-track court," she pointed out.

Also Read: Time to hang our heads in shame. Once again.

The POCSO Act, 2012 was enacted to provide a robust legal framework for the protection of children from offences of sexual assault.

May 27, 2014.

Like so many thousands of families in the villages, Lals did not have a toilet either in their village that is about 300 kilometres from the state capital Lucknow. So the girls had gone out to answer the call of nature.

"I heard cries for help and when I went to the spot where the voices came from, I saw Pappu (the main accused) along with three other men. When I asked what was happening, Pappu pointed tamancha (gun) at me… I rushed to the home of Sohan Lal to tell them," Babu Ram, a relative of the victims, who is the main eyewitness in the case, told Gaon Connection.

According to the victims' family, Sohan Lal went to the Katra Sadatganj police station and begged for help. But he was asked to come back in the morning. By then the two girls were dead.

All that is left of the two cousins is their deserted dilapidated room and handmade wall hanging.

Both the police persons were suspended, but their suspension was revoked and they are back on duty, Budaun-based Syed Ainul Huda Naqvi (Kaukab), the lawyer representing the victim's case, said.

All the three accused in the case were summoned under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 363, 366, 354 and Section 7 /8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. However, all three were released after three months of imprisonment, and they are on bail.

Budaun trial: Eight years and still counting…

In the Budaun case, initial investigation and the postmortem report dated May 28, 2014, accessed by Gaon Connection, suggested rape. The accused — Pappu Yadav, Avdhesh Yadav, and Urvesh Yadav — were jailed on June 1, 2014, within four days of the incident.

However, in its November 2014 report, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was investigating the Budaun case, ruled out gangrape. The main eyewitness Babu Ram reportedly failed the lie detector test.

Meanwhile, phone records of about 400 calls were found between the main accused Pappu Yadav and one of the victims giving rise to speculation about an affair between them. There were also rumours that the death of the victims was an honour killing.

On February 2, 2015, the CBI filed its closure report at the Badaun court, which was dismissed on October 28 the same year when the lawyer representing the victims protested against it and presented additional evidence.

"Only one accused (Pappu) was summoned but he is also out on bail. I have collected evidence to summon the remaining accused. When the CBI ruled out rape, the accused were released. The argument on the case is pending," Naqvi said.

"Evidence must be recorded at the earliest and these accused must be convicted," he added.

How effective has POCSO been?

The POCSO Act, 2012 was enacted to provide a robust legal framework for the protection of children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. The framing of the Act seeks speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts.

Under the POCSO Act, whoever commits "aggravated penetrative sexual assault" shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.

An offence under POCSO Act is a non-bailable offence. "But it does not mean that bail will not be granted. It means that one has to seek bail from the court," Renu Mishra, a Lucknow-based lawyer explained Gaon Connection.

"The objective of speedy trials with which this law was enacted has completely failed," Rohit Tripathi, a lawyer in the Lucknow High Court, told Gaon Connection. "We talk about expeditious trials but we give bail to the accused. This makes the accused tension free. If we end the bail process, then trial can be fast," Tripathi said.

"If that happened, witnesses would be independent and without fear. Granting bail is a major loophole which defies the objective of the Act. This should end," he emphasised.

There are other problems with the POCSO Act. "A detailed study of the law [POCSO] shows that it tends to deal with only the offence of sexual assault committed against the child and not with the murder committed after rape. In such cases, where murder has been committed after the rape, the matter is dealt according to both POCSO Act and IPC," POCSO lawyer Pragya Parijat said.

What was promised on paper with the POCSO is not reflected in the application, said Renu Mishra, the executive director of Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiative (AALI), an institution that provides free legal aid to women in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar.

"A weak investigation by the police, delays in medical reports sent by doctors and delays by lawyers and judges is added assault for a survivor. Police, doctors, judges, lawyers are insensitive and they make this system weak and the accused gets off free," she said.

"The statements of survivors are not recorded on camera, which is against the Act. They tend to forget details when asked a number of times. Witnesses also back off. Therefore the lower conviction rates. Many times people withdraw cases," Mishra added.

Sohan Lal carefully tying legal documents in an old cloth. It is has been eights years since he has been fighting to get justice for the dead daughters.

Highlighting issues that police officers face while dealing with cases under the POCSO Act, RK Chaturvedi, former Inspector General of Police, Uttar Pradesh, told Gaon Connection, "More than fifty to seventy per cent witnesses back off from their statements in the courts. It becomes difficult to bring independent witnesses then. Investigation officers also keep changing which affects the quality of investigation. Besides, the casual approach of the police doesn't help. Many cases also go unreported."

The need of the hour is to have a dedicated unit where all the work related to such cases is carried out. "There should be a system where the medical report is furnished within twenty four hours, enquiry happens within twelve hours of receiving application, and investigation is carried out in the first ninety days. The trial should be completed within a year," Chaturvedi said.

It's been ten years since the enactment of the POCSO Act, but the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2021 data shows the overall conviction rate in POCSO Act is only 32 per cent.

"After our daughters were raped and killed, the government built a toilet at our home. If we had a toilet, our daughters would have been alive, it's been eight years. We lost our daughters. Now I fear for my granddaughter," the mother of one of the Badaun victims, cried.

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