Tappal (Aligarh): Shilpa is impassive. Her eyes have run dry. Surrounded by a dozen women at her home in Aligarh’s Tappal village, all she can do is stare at a mobile phone photo of her two-year-old daughter Twinkle, who was allegedly killed last week over a Rs 10,000 loan.
“They butchered my only child,” Shilpa said, as the women fanned her. Someone tried to offer her water, but she kept mumbling, her gaze fixated on the phone.
Contrary to initial reports and social media speculation, Twinkle wasn’t raped. But the brutality inflicted upon the child is likely to haunt her parents and the village of Tappal forever.
Twinkle was Shilpa and her husband Banwari Lal Sharma’s only daughter, born five years into marriage, after several medical complications. Her death comes just eight months after Shilpa suffered a miscarriage and lost a fetus she’d carried for nine months.
The couple last saw their daughter alive on 30 May, a Thursday, when she left the house around 8.30 am to play with her friends. Forty-eight hours later, her decomposed, maggot-infested body was dragged out of a garbage dump near her house by stray dogs, who then ravaged the body further.
Her eyes were popping out, right arm had been cut off, left leg, ribs, nose fractured, and the corpse nibbled by insects and rodents, in some parts down to her bone.
Failing to get that image out of her head, Shilpa rubbed her eyes vigorously and shook her head every five minutes. “The stench of her body is still fresh in my nose. That image of her lying in a garbage heap, in that condition, haunts me,” she said, “I do not think I can ever get it out of my head.”
According to Aligarh police, the child was abducted by two men, Zahid and Aslam, who then tortured and murdered her. The reason: The duo owed her grandfather Rs 10,000 and had had an argument with him just two days before. In the heat of the argument, they had warned him that they would teach him a lesson.
The two have been booked, among other sections, under the National Security Act, which is generally reserved for terror-related offences.
Mounted loudspeakers over bike and toured village for 24 hours
Twinkle’s family alleges that Aligarh police waited 32 hours before taking action on their complaint. According to Banwari Lal Sharma, he rushed to the Tappal police station soon after they discovered Twinkle missing, but no one listened to him.
“She must have gone to someone’s house. She will return,” he was allegedly told.
“Police took my contact number and told me that I should go home and they will call me in case they find her,” he said.
“They did not take any written complaint, nor did they care to ask about the appearance of my daughter, what she was wearing. So, I thought, I will have to do this myself,” he added.
So, he gathered a few of his friends and went to all temples and mosques in the vicinity, asking them to make announcements about his daughter being missing.
When no news came for a couple of hours, he took his bike, mounted loudspeakers on it, and went across the village making announcements.
“I was on the road all day on 30 May, doing door-to-door searches and making announcements, but to no avail,” he said. “The next day, at 9.15 am, I again went to the police station and requested them to lodge a complaint. It was only at 4.30 pm that police registered a case, that too after much persuasion,” Sharma added.
Police subsequently formed a search party. However, despite combing through the village, police were not able to find Twinkle.
The yellow capri
On 1 June, Sharma told ThePrint, police came to him and asked him to go over CCTV footage with them.
“All day, they showed us CCTV footage from different locations without making any effort to find her. We could not spot her in the footage,” he added, “I kept looking for the yellow capri she was wearing when I last saw her, but could not spot her anywhere. The entire day was wasted.”
On 2 June, a woman who collects garbage spotted Twinkle’s maggot-infested body as dogs fed on it at a dump, and raised an alarm.
“The dogs dragged the body out of the garbage bin. I could not recognise my own daughter as her face was completely disfigured,” said Sharma, “All I could recognise was her yellow capri.”
According to the autopsy report, Twinkle died of “shock due to ante-mortem injuries”, or wounds inflicted before death. She was probably beaten for as many as eight hours before she died.
“The autopsy made it clear that the girl was killed on 30th itself. She was hit by blunt objects, thrashed and tortured,” a police officer investigating the case says.
“Her legs and ribs were fractured and one arm amputated. The body was then hidden in a room, under a hay stack, because of which it decomposed in the heat,” he adds.
According to police, the accused probably dumped the body near the garbage heap the same day it was discovered.
‘Found sufficient clues’
As villagers gathered around the garbage dump after the body was spotted, Twinkle’s grandfather saw Zahid passing by. The argument of a few days before came back to him and he was immediately suspicious that the child may have been killed by Zahid and Aslam.
“He then raised an alarm and the people around caught hold of Zahid and informed police,” Sharma said. “Zahid was handed over to police and a case registered against him and his brother.”
According to police, they, along with a team from the Forensic Science Laboratory, had found sufficient clues to prove the girl was killed in the backyard of Zahid’s house.
However, questions remain: Why didn’t police examine the room, barely 100 metres from the girl’s house, during their door-to-door search? Why would the accused dump the body in a garbage heap right in front of their house?
But police are certain. “There is no doubt that the two killed the girl and then dumped her body to decompose,” Aligarh senior superintendent of police Akash Kulhari said, “However, she was not sexually assaulted. No acid was thrown on her face.”
“Police made thorough attempts to search for the girl but, unfortunately, her dead body was found on 2 June,” he added.
“Zahid and Aslam have been arrested and we are going to impose the NSA, so that they do not get bail,” he said, “Also, we are requesting the court to fast-track the case for speedy justice.”
The NSA allows detention of a person to prevent him or her from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of India, the relations of India with foreign countries, the maintenance of public order, or the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community.
In this case, the NSA was invoked because of the nature of the case and the potential it has to disrupt and disturb law and order: Half the population in Tappal is Muslim, and the case could potentially take on communal overtones, as it did in the 2018 rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua.
The family of the accused, including Zahid’s wife, mother, brother and sister, have fled their home in the wake of the crime. A police team are now on the lookout for them.
“If the girl’s body was kept in the backyard, it is certain Zahid’s family knew about it, which makes them party to the crime. We have sent teams to make more arrests,” another police officer involved in the investigation said.
“One of the accused, Aslam, was arrested previously for allegedly raping his own daughter,” he added.
‘It is not about Hindu-Muslim’
Back at Twinkle’s home, one of the dozen women trying to console Shilpa appeared agitated. “It is us Hindus who are sitting quietly even after seeing our daughter fed upon by dogs. What if we decide to take revenge?” she said.
But Twinkle’s aunt Geeta Sharma immediately countered her, “It is not about Hindu-Muslim. Let us not shift our focus from the crime that has been committed… Whoever has done it cannot be a human being, irrespective of what religion he follows. Even a Hindu could have done it.”
“We just want that, whoever has done it, should not be spared,” she added. The women surrounding her nod in agreement.
“You are right. Despite a 50 per cent Muslim population, we have been co-existing for so many years,” said one of the women, “Why would this happen now?”