"When I saw her charred, folded and blackened skin at the hospital in Lucknow, she broke into tears. When asked if she was alright, she said she was. Then her eyes widened and despite the pain she was in, the first thing she asked me was how many of the men were arrested. I told her all of them were. Then she told me, 'Even if I die, please ensure they are all hanged to death’. She said this and then never said anything again."
Kaveri*, a year older to the 23-year-old Unnao rape victim Khushi*, recalls the last conversation she had with her sister, best friend and confidante. Sitting inside their humble mud-thatched home, with a tulsi plant at the centre of the courtyard, she tells The Quint how everything, including the plant in the house, reminds her of her sister.
"Before this incident, she was a happy spirit. Everyone liked her the best because she had the talent of making conversation with people so warmly that it didn’t seem she was meeting them the first time. We called her Khushi (happiness) at home."
Who Are The Five Accused of Setting Her Ablaze?
The Unnao rape victim was allegedly burnt by five men, named in her dying declaration. She was burnt on 5 December and succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Delhi late on 6 December night.
The five men include Shivam Trivedi and his father, Ram Kishore Trivedi, Shubham Trivedi and his father, Hari Shankar Trivedi, and Umesh Vajpayee.
Shivam and Shubham, both in their early 20s, were named as rape accused by Khushi in a complaint filed in December 2018.
Shivam was arrested and in jail for about two months before he got bail on 30 November. The incident happened days after he was released. Shubham on the otherhand was never arrested by the police as the family furnished evidence of him being admitted in hospital then.
Hari Shankar Trivedi’s residence is known as the pradhan’s house. The seat is either given to his wife or someone who Hari backs. Umesh Vajpayee worked at the panchayat as the record-keeper.
'Want A Repeat of Hyderabad Encounter'
Referring to what happened in Hyderabad days ago, where the Telangana police in an encounter killed the four accused in the rape and murder of a veterinarian, Kaveri says she wants history to repeat itself in Unnao.
"We want what happened in Hyderabad to be repeated with these men too. They should be killed in an encounter or hung to death. The way they plotted to kill my sister... they do not deserve to live. If we do not get justice, like I have said before, I will go to Yogi's darbar and kill myself," she says, her eyes reflecting both helplessness and a firm determination to act on her whim.
How Khushi Begged for Help
Kaveri recalls how Khushi had told her she would go to meet the lawyer the évening before she was burnt. "It was like any other day. She didn't wake up the first time and kept asking me to wake her 10 minutes later. With an empty stomach she finally left around 3:30 am for the Bhaiswara station, which is about 4 kilometers away.”
The family was told Khushi was burnt and taken to hospital only around 7:30 am. After she was admitted to hospital, Kaveri spent sometime to go and meet locals who might have seen Khushi.
"Jab uska aag lagaya toh usne sabse maddat maangi ki bacha lo bacha lo, toh kissi ne nahi suni. Kuch log paas bhi nahi gaye kyuki vo churail ki tarah lag rahi thi. (When she was torched, she kept running around and asking people for help but no one helped her. Some didn't go close to her as it was a scary sight)," Kaveri says, eye brimming with tears. This was the first time she broke down in course of the interview.
Continuing, she says, "She kept trying to tell people who she was so they would recognise her and help. She took someone's phone and made a call herself for the ambulance. When the locals insisted, she wrapped a blanket over herself."
'Repeated Calls of Threat Had Become The Norm'
After the rape accused got out on bail he allegedly called Khushi up on 2 December. "The rape accused got out and threatened her two days before she was burnt to death. He told her in as many words that since she had sent him to jail he would ensure that she knows her place."
But the threats had begun much before the accused even got bail, ever since the case of rape was made against the two accused, both from the privileged Brahmin caste. The two accused allegedly threatened the family of the victim, who belong to the oppressed Vishwakarma caste.
Kaveri says it started with them torching one of their uncle's home a few blocks away. Then they came home and hit and abused their father and then they repeated the same with their uncle. "They began to register fake cases of theft against us including one of stealing Rs 30 lakh from the home of the main accused. Then they also put a case under Section 376 of the IPC (rape and gang-rape) against my father and a younger brother."
Khushi and Kaveri’s father says he never heard of the woman (alleging rape) or met her but claims the accused were behind this complaint.
The Fear of Fire That Finally Engulfed Her
Kaveri and Khushi were always together. "How to stay without her I do not know. She used to be scared of fire. She would always insist that I turn the chulha on for her and then she would cook. I can't believe the same fire took her life."
Kaveri says she shared a unique bond with Khushi, where they understood the other without the need to communicate. "The way we loved each other as sisters I don't think people share that kind of love. The way we understood each other is rare. I know the moment she stopped breathing. I did not need to be told that."
Right since the rape happened in December 2018, Kaveri's marriage proposals faced rejection several times. "They go or send their men and say bad things about me, my sister and my family. Several such alliances have broken since," she says.
But her repeated promise of burning herself in front of UP CM Yogi Adityanath's home and the echo of her sister's last words to her makes everything else irrelevant to her today. "I will fight her fight for both of us now," she says.
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