In his next outing, Ayushmann Khurrana’s Article 15 will take on India’s deep-seated caste system. The film – set to release on 28 June – is based on the alleged 2014 gang-rape and murder case involving two teenaged girls in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district.
While the trailer showcases the horrific nature of the 2014 crime, the real story is much more complicated. At every step of the investigation by the authorities in charge – the Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – the case only turned murkier.
So, what exactly happened? Five years on, with the accused out on bail and no justice delivered, here’s what transpired.
Incident As Initially Reported
In the wee hours of 28 May 2014, two girls aged 14 and 15 were found hanging from a branch of a mango tree in Katra Sadatganj village. The two cousins had gone missing the previous evening when they had gone in the fields to relieve themselves.
When they didn’t return late into the night, their families began searching. Early the next day, the girls were found hanging from a tree.
The accounts of events that transpired while the search was on and how the police got involved vary drastically, casting doubt over the entire investigation.
Various Versions of the Same Story
- According to some reports, the father of the one of the victims and uncle of the other, Sohan Lal, said he went to the police station around midnight, begging for help to look for the two girls. But, he said, the two police officers on duty mocked him and did not register an FIR.
- Another version claims that Babu Ram, a family relative and prime witness in the case, had seen the girls with the main accused, Pappu Yadav, who held them at gunpoint. Babu Ram then apparently ran to alert the family about the abduction, after which they approached the police.
- A third version suggests that the family went to Pappu Yadav’s house where he had admitted to abducting the girls, but he refused to release them. Helpless, the family then approached the police who initially told them that their girls will return home in two hours. After two hours, when the family went back to the station, one of the police officials said that their daughter might be hanging from a tree.
SIT Investigation: Accused Confessed To Murder & Rape
Even hours after the girls’ bodies were discovered, angry villagers did not allow the police to take them down from the mango tree till the suspects had been arrested.
Footage of this scene, widely broadcast by the media, infuriated the country.
They eventually allowed officials to take down the corpses after the first arrests were made the next day, 28 May, according to The Guardian.
By 1 June, the three main accused – Pappu Yadav, Awdesh Yadav and Urvesh Yadav – had been taken into police custody and had confessed to the rape and murder of the two girls. Along with that, two police constables were removed from the case and detained.
On 6 June 2014, the SIT took over the case.
CBI Probe: The Girls Killed Themselves
Amid national and international outrage, the Uttar Pradesh government transferred the case to the CBI on 12 June 2014. But after they took over, the case became more cumbersome, and not only put the families’ claims under the scanner, but also made the prime witness, Babu Ram, unreliable.
The Caste Angle
Since the case was brought to light, there was a lot of conjecture regarding the victims’ caste. Although initial reports did not identify the caste, a Reuters report claimed that the girls belonged to the Dalit community. The Central government had asked why stringent clauses of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST) were not applied when the accused were charged with rape and murder. In a confirmation letter, the Uttar Pradesh government said that the victims did not belong to the said class, reported The Hindu.
"“The caste of the victims does not attract the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.”" - Amrendra Sengar, IG, Law and Order, on 2 June 2014
While there has never been any official confirmation on the girls’ caste, several reports have suggested that they belong to the Shakya caste, also termed as Maurya, whereas the accused hail from the Yadav caste. Both these castes are classified as OBC in Uttar Pradesh.
One of the main reasons why the ‘caste card’ was considered crucial in the murders was because most of the police staff who initially probed the case were also Yadavs. After allegations of bias, data collected by district police officials revealed that:
- 11 SHOs in Badaun district were Yadavs
- Senior inspectors in six out of the 22 police stations were Yadavs
- In-charge of the Katra Sadatganj police post was also a Yadav. He was later suspended
"“Yadavs in the village were harassing others and under the Akhilesh Yadav government, a Yadav police officer, rather than acting against the goons belonging to their community, used to victimise us.”" - OP Pal, Resident of the village
Reading Between The Lines
Contradictions between the statements of the victims’ families and evidence used was brought to attention by the media, while discrepancies in the procedure of the investigation were pointed out as well.
1. Uttar Pradesh Police Investigation
One of the girl’s father had alleged that the police were not at all cooperative with them when he initially found out that his daughter might be missing.
“After searching for them everywhere, we went to the police but they threatened us and did not help us find them at all,” he said in an interview with NDTV.
In the same interview, according to the father, the main accused Pappu Yadav had admitted to having the girls at his home that night. The CBI supposed that the police had not done their due diligence before filling an FIR, as reported by .
2. Alleged Phone Being Found
A month after the crime, CBI investigators spotted a mobile phone from the photograph of the crime scene. The photographs were enhanced, and the mobile phone tucked in the upper garments of the elder sister was spotted, according to a report in India Today.
The family never mentioned anything about a mobile phone prior to this point of the investigation, and upon being summoned to submit the phone, produced a broken one.
The phone which was initially reported to be missing was then sent to Gujarat forensic lab, which concluded, "the mobile phone was broken recently and intentionally by applying external force."
The CBI went on to conclude that one of the girls had telephonic contact with Pappu Yadav hours before the incident and that she might have been in a relationship with the accused.
This conclusion is corroborated from call records that showed that the victim and accused had contacted each other over 300 times since 2013, reported Hindustan Times.
The pair of slippers that the CBI had considered crucial evidence in the case was also withheld by the family for a long time, reported Indian Express.
3. First Autopsy Done in The Case
One of the doctors who was on the panel that conducted the first post mortem of the bodies claimed that she had no prior experience of autopsy before this, in a report according to Economic Times.
This statement had come in a day before the CBI had decided to exhume the bodies, when they found out that the initial post mortem was not done in compliance with the procedures.
"“I had never done a post mortem before this case as it is done generally by male doctors. On that night, I got a phone call and was included in the panel. That day, I didn’t even knew that the case had been highlighted in the media.”" - Dr Pant, one of the doctors on the panel
4. DNA Sampling Done by CBI
After having failed to have the bodies exhumed, the CBI decided to conduct a DNA sampling of the clothes and a few other personal belongings of the girls, along with the vaginal swabs that were collected by the local doctors.
Through the results, the CBI had concluded that the girls were not raped and hence a charge sheet would not be filed against the accused.
According to a report in Indian Express, the father of one of the victims refused to accept this report and accused the agency of deliberately delaying the process of a second autopsy, which finally made it impossible to conduct one. The families also believe that the clothes that were used for sampling were not of their daughters.
5. The Accused Had Confessed to Rape and Murder
In the initial stages of investigation the UP police, in an official statement, had said that during interrogation, two of the accused had confessed to rape and murder of the two girls, as reported by The Times Of India. This was also pointed out by the father of one of the victims when the CBI had reached their conclusion.
“How can the CBI rule out rape when the accused publicly confessed to the crime in the village when they were caught?” said the father of one of the victims.
6. Money Transferred to the Account of the Main Witness
During the CBI investigation, it was revealed that the families of the victims had transferred Rs 1 lakh each to the bank accounts of two eyewitnesses, including Babu Ram, reported Indian Express.
The money was sent from the Rs 5 lakh compensation which the family had received from the BSP. The fathers of the girls reportedly told the CBI that they transferred the money to help Babu Ram out.
7.Main Witness Failed the Polygraph Test
Babu Ram’s role came under the scanner when he failed the polygraph test conducted by the CBI.
While the five main accused had passed the test, there were inconsistencies that were reported in his statement on key questions related to the case, according to the Indian Express.
It was based on his statement that the police had registered a case and arrested five people – three brothers and two constables. It was found out that contrary to what he had claimed earlier, he found the girls with Pappu, following which there was a scuffle between the two men. Earlier, he had claimed that he ran back to the village immediately and alerted the girls’ families, after which they approached the police to launch a search for the cousins.
The polygraph test also revealed him admitting the possession of a mobile phone, that he had earlier denied. The mobile phone was recovered from him and sent for forensic examination to ascertain whether any data had been deleted.
Despite the national attention, the case has been pending in the POCSO court for years. According to Kokab Hasan Naqvi, the lawyer for the victims’ families, the court had summoned Pappu Yadav, the main accused, after a petition was filed against the CBI closure report.
The defence has demanded that all five accused be summoned – and the court duly summoned them – but all five are currently out on bail as the case drags on.
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