Boolgarhi (Hathras): The four Thakur men accused of raping a 20-year-old Dalit Valmiki woman, who died later, in Hathras are not just “innocent” of the crime but are being “framed by the woman’s family for compensation”. They are “just paying the price for being upper castes”.
This is the overwhelming mood prevalent in Boolgarhi village, dominated by upper castes, in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh .
Thakurs are the largest community in Boolgarhi, while Brahmins are the second biggest group, at just about half the Thakur population, according to residents of the village with around 200 houses. The Valmikis — the Dalit community the woman belonged too — are minuscule in comparison, with just three families, all related to each other.
The Thakurs and Brahmins of Boolgarhi narrate a completely different version of the events of 14 September — the day the alleged gang rape took place. The woman was injured so badly that she died two weeks later at New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.
According to the villagers, however, not only are the accused — Sandeep Thakur, his uncle Ravi Singh, Luvkush Thakur and Ramu Thakur — “innocent”, but the entire story is “politically driven” and the “media is biased”. They also claim it was the woman’s family members who killed her “for money”.
Everyone who narrates this version of the story, when asked how they know, gives a similar answer — “eyewitness accounts” of “unknown people”. And all of them have “heard” that the accused Thakur men were at different places at the estimated time of the crime.
“We stay well informed; we hear everything,” says Aman Rana, a Thakur and member of Right-wing group Bajrang Dal.
What the families of accused say
The families of the four accused insist they are paying the price for being upper castes. They claim the case against them is only to extract compensation under the SC/ST Act.
There is a reticence among them to state their names, but none in being photographed, and in claiming the Thakur men are innocent and being framed.
“Everyone knows how Dalits have always targeted upper castes using the ‘Harijan Act’. Thakurs are scared of these Valmikis. They use the Act as they like — to earn money and put us in trouble. Upper caste hona paap ho gaya hai aaj kal ki duniya mein (it’s a sin to be an upper caste in today’s world),” says Sandeep’s cousin, who does not want to be named.
“Yahan par upper castes hi ko sataya jata hai (the upper castes are the ones troubled here),” the cousin adds.
Asked where Sandeep was when the crime took place, the cousin says: “I don’t know that much, but he hasn’t done it. He’s a very good boy. Also, how can an uncle and nephew do such a thing together?”
Another person, who is Sandeep’s uncle and accused Ravi’s brother, says they are happy about the steps taken by the Uttar Pradesh government so far. “We are satisfied with the CBI inquiry (being announced). We want the girl’s family to undergo the narco-polygraph test because our children are innocent. This is a conspiracy to target us since we are Thakurs. They have done it for money,” he says.
According to this uncle, who also doesn’t want to be named, Sandeep was providing water to their cows when the crime took place. He also thinks the woman’s family killed her for money, and refuses to acknowledge the girl’s ‘dying declaration’ in which she alleged gang rape. Instead, he insists the woman didn’t talk of “rape” in her first statement, but only about strangulation.
Meanwhile, accused Luvkush’s uncle — who also doesn’t want to give his name — says there was no rivalry between the families of the Sandeep and the woman, and that visits were frequent. “After 22 September, the drama has increased,” he says, alleging that there was an “affair” between the woman and Sandeep Thakur.
Luvkush’s father, a chowkidar, also claims his son is innocent. “He is very seedha-sada (simple).”
A Thakur man unrelated to the accused adds that his community “keeps the Valmiki community so nicely”, but still, “their complaints don’t end”.
“They do all this for money. I have heard that the girl’s family killed her and framed the upper caste men. These people can go to any extent for money,” adds the man.
Brahmins on the same page
The Brahmins of Boolgarhi are standing firmly with the Thakurs on this matter.
“It is known that the men are innocent. The woman’s family is lying. Everyone knows that here, but they are scared to open their mouths. The family will file an SC/ST Act case,” says a Brahmin woman.
The Brahmins say they are also “scared” of the Valmikis as many Thakurs have been “falsely framed” under the SC/ST Act in the last couple of years.
“We don’t want to suffer like them,” says a Brahmin man.
However, in a departure from the Thakurs’ claim that there was no personal enmity between the families of the woman and the accused, numerous members of the Brahmin community claim Sandeep’s family and the woman’s family have a long history of it, and that a scuffle broke out about two months ago between them over their “affair”.
When pressed for further details, they say none of them witnessed it but only “heard” that something like that had happened.
Caste divide in Boolgarhi
Like most villages in this part of the world, Boolgarhi has a clear caste divide — even geographically. Narrow lanes separate the Thakur, Brahmin and Valmikis’ houses, meeting to form a T-junction.
Thakurs and Brahmins insist that “casteism” has never played a role in their village, and that everyone is equal in their eyes. A mandir in the Brahmin lane, painted white, however, tells a different story — Brahmins and Thakurs are allowed, but the Valmikis aren’t.
Thakurs and Brahmins own the agricultural land, while the Valmikis’ livelihood depends on cattle. Not many Valmikis have been to school. In fact, the woman’s family had told ThePrint how the “ill fate” of their daughter was driven by caste — they aren’t the “dabang Thakurs or Pandits”.
Now, these caste-lines have only got thicker. The upper castes are holding panchayats in favour of the accused, hailing the UP Police’s claim of “no rape” citing the Agra Forensic Science Laboratory report that mentions the absence of semen from samples taken eight days after the incident.
The upper castes have also staged a dharna, calling the accused Thakur men “innocent”, chanting “UP Police zindabad” and “Bhim Army murdabad”, about the Dalit-led organisation that has supported the woman’s family.