Poisoned or tied up? Questions hang over death of Dalit sisters in Unnao

Three girls went out to collect fodder. Two returned home dead and one is battling for life in a Kanpur hospital.

Poisoned or tied up? Questions hang over death of Dalit sisters in Unnao
Shambhavi Thakur
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On February 17, Reena, 17, her younger sister Khushboo,13, and their cousin Sita, 16, had gone out to collect fodder for their cattle in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district. When they didn’t return in the evening, their family members went looking for them. The girls were found in a mustard field, frothing at their mouths.

Khushboo and Sita were pronounced dead by a doctor at the local community health centre, while Reena was taken to Kanpur’s Regency Hospital and is said to be in a critical condition.

The spot where the three girls were found.

The spot where the three girls were found.

The families of the girls are from the Pal community, which is classified as a Scheduled Caste in UP.

Differing versions

According to Reena’s mother, Usha, the girls were found lying in the family’s mustard field. “They would often go out to collect fodder. We didn’t have enmity with anyone in the village,” she said. “Reena still had a pulse, but she was shivering a lot. Nothing was amiss as far as Reena’s clothes were concerned”.

Usha said she used her saree to wipe the froth coming out of Reena’s mouth.

Contradicting claims made by her son, Usha added, “My daughter’s hands and feet were not tied. Her dupatta was in place.” Her son, Raju, had told local reporters at the Kanpur hospital that “he found the hands and feet of the girls tied together”.

Raju’s version of how the girls were found, however, was confirmed by Ravindra Kumar, district magistrate of Unnao. “Hands and feet of the girls were tied when they were found on the site of the incident,” he told Newslaundry Hindi. He added that there was no evidence of rape yet.

The case is under under the jurisdiction of Asoha police station.

The case is under under the jurisdiction of Asoha police station.

The police have claimed the girls consumed poison but an unnamed relative told the media at the Kanpur hospital that they were not sure if that was the case. “We will wait for her to give a statement,” he said, meaning Reena.

The girls were found by a group of villagers whom Newslaundry hasn’t been able to identify so far. Raju and the relative who spoke with the media got there only after some time. Usha didn’t see the girls until they were brought home.

Raju’s wife Rani said the girls had informed her before going out. “When they didn’t return until 6 pm, I told their brother to go and look for them,” Rani said, adding that the family did not want to level allegations against anyone.

Doctor’s note

A handwritten note by the doctor who attended to the girls at the community health centre says Reena “was brought in a state of gasping” – without specifying the reason – whereas Khushboo and Sita were “brought dead”.

On Reena’s condition, it states that her pulse rate and blood pressure “could not be recorded”, and that “her pupils were in a dilated state”.

It’s this note, signed by the doctor at 8:30 pm and addressed to the head of the local police station, which is being treated as a complaint by the police.

Police’s version

SN Sabat, additional director general of police, Lucknow Zone, said the “family didn’t inform the police directly” after finding the girls.

Asked whether the girls had been found tied up, Sabat said, “Police haven’t found any such thing on the spot. This is being stated by one of the family members and it is being probed.”

Referring to the doctor’s note, he added, “Based on the smell from their mouths, it seems probable that this is a case of poisoning.”

UPDATE: Addressing a press conference on February 19, Laxmi Singh, inspector general of police, Lucknow, said they have arrested a man named Vinay alias Lambu and a juvenile in connection with the case. They are both from Pathakpur village. Vinay, the prime accused, had asked Reena for her cellphone number and when she refused, the IG added, Vinay planned to kill her.

On February 17, Vinay and the juvenile went to the field where Reena and her sisters had gone to collect fodder and mixed insecticide in their water bottle, the IG said. The girls drank the poisoned water and fell unconscious.

The IG clarified that their autopsies had not revealed external injury marks on the bodies of Khusboo and Sita. She also refuted claims by some of Reena's family members that the girls were found with their hands and feet tied.

Names have been changed to protect identities.

Photos by Jitendra Mishra Azad.

Jitendra Mishra Azad is a freelance journalist in Unnao.

Anurag Singh, a freelance journalist in Lucknow, contributed reporting.

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