2 murders, 22 months, 1 court proceeding — families of deceased Dalit cousins in Unnao still await justice
On February 17, 2021, three minor Dalit girls in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh were allegedly poisoned. Two of them died while one survived. It is almost two years and so far only one court proceeding has been held to address the crime. The accused have also been under arrest since then with no progress on the case.
Manvendra Singh 11 Dec 2022 5:42 AM GMT
Baburaha (Unnao), Uttar Pradesh
He will never forget February 17, 2021, he said. The father of the16-year-old daughter had just returned home from a neighbouring village where he worked as a manual labourer.
"It was around 5:30 PM. People on my way home told me that my daughter and two of her cousins — 17-year-old and 13-year-old — had gone missing and that they were looking for them. I joined them," the father, a resident of Baburaha village in Unnao district, narrated to Gaon Connection.
"I learnt that the three girls were last seen going to the fields to get berseem [fodder] for the cattle. We rushed to the fields in the adjacent Pathakpura village and found them lying unconscious in the field with their hands tied. We took the girls to the government hospital where I got to know my daughter had left me forever," the father of the deceased 16-year-old told Gaon Connection. He belongs to the Dalit community.
In February 2021, the village of Baburaha, about 65 kilometres from Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow, was shaken as three minor Dalit girls, who were cousins, aged 13, 16 and 17 years, were found unconscious in a field.
Two of them — 13-year-old and 16-year-old — died in hospital while the eldest survived. They were allegedly poisoned with pesticides by the 25-year-old accused Vinay alias Lambu and another minor accomplice from the same village.
It is almost two years and the court proceedings are moving at a snail's pace, complain the relatives of the girls. Only one court proceeding has happened in the past 22 months. The families of the girls are incensed at the slow pace of legal proceedings against the accused.
Meanwhile, prime accused Vinay is presently under judicial custody while the minor accused is at the child reform centre ever since.
"So far, only PW1 [primary witness 1] , who is the uncle of one of the girls, has been recorded. There was a strike in the court at the time when the survivor's statement was to be recorded hence, we are waiting for the further proceedings," Mukesh Verma, the lawyer representing the girls, told Gaon Connection.
Shobhna Smriti, an activist working for the New Delhi-based All India Dalit Mahila Adhikaar Manch, stated that in the past almost two years the case should have made progress towards judgment, but it has not.
According to her, the delay was due to shortage of judges and courts in the country. "There are a lot of things that's ailing the justice delivery system in this country. And, Dalits are amongst the most exploited sections of the society in the rural areas. Such cases should be dealt with swiftly," Smriti told Gaon Connection.
The modus operandi
The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Laxmi Singh in a press conference on February 19, 2021, said that the accused Vinay had befriended one of the girls (17-year-old who survived the assault) during the lockdown and they often met in the fields.
"He decided to kill her when the girl rejected his advances, and refused to give him her phone number," the police official was quoted as saying.
"The other two girls also drank from the same water bottle that had pesticides mixed in it. Vinay said he tried to stop the other two from drinking the water but could not do so. When the girls fainted, he panicked and fled the spot along with his companion," the police official added.
"The hasiya-khurpa (sickle and shovel), which they used to cut fodder from the field, were lying near their heads. My 16-year-old child was frothing at the mouth. We took the girls to the doctor in pradhan ji's car, but she passed away soon after," the mother told Gaon Connection.
Meanwhile, the grandmother of the deceased 13-year-old girl stated that the girl has faced hardships ever since she was an infant.
"I remember the day her mother died when she was an infant. I don't know how this court kachehri works… all I want is that the man who killed my poti [granddaughter] should die a painful death. It's been almost two years, the case is moving too slowly," the grandmother of the 13-year-old deceased said.
Activists miffed at the slow legal proceedings
The National Crime Records Bureau in its report titled Crime in India 2021, said a total of 428,278 cases of crimes against women were registered. As per the same report, a total of 171,730 such cases are pending.
Also, rapes of Dalit women (3,870) were found to be 12 per cent of the total number of rape cases (31,677). There were also 1,285 cases of rape of children belonging to the Scheduled Castes that were registered.
While talking to Gaon Connection about the double murder in Unnao, Seema Kushwaha, the lawyer noted for representing the 2012 Delhi gangrape victim, stated that the judicial systemc certainly needs a reform if justice is to be served to victims of gender violence.
"In this case, the culprits are in custody but mostly, the courts grant bail to the accused and the conviction rates are abysmally low," Kushwaha said. "The perpetrators with a criminal mentality are left to roam around freely in the society which endangers the safety of the citizens at large. The judiciary needs to be reformed in a way that the court proceedings are ensured timely," she added.
Awadhesh Singh, the lawyer representing the accused, stated that the COVID-19 pandemic was a determining factor in the delay behind the case proceedings.
"The courts were barely functioning during the lockdown. My client Vinay is in jail and he was charged with NSA [National Security Act, 1980] which the court dismissed. On what basis was he charged under NSA? How is killing two girls a matter of national security? The administration should not use such laws at will," he told Gaon Connection.
'Women in agrarian settings face sexual coercion'
The girls who were poisoned on the evening of February 17, 2021 were out to get fodder for the buffaloes at home. According to a study conducted by the American multinational company Dupont's agricultural arm named Corteva agriscience in 2018, 78 per cent of women around the world who are engaged in agricultural and allied activities face sexual coercion.
"After the killings, I had to change the school of my younger daughter as she was studying in the village where the family of the accused lives. I got to know that some men visited the school to know whether my child studies here," aunt of the murdered cousins told Gaon Connection.
Her fears are justified. According to a report titled Educating the Girl Child published by the non-governmental organisation, Child Right and You, 25.2 per cent of the girls in India drop out of school because their parents are afraid of sending them too far from home.