“While we were on the train, he got on top of me, held both my hands, and started kissing me on the lips.”
This is what Namrata*, 25, said in a video recorded on April 16, and had told her father on April 14. Two weeks later, Namrata died in a hospital in Haryana’s Bahadurgarh. The official cause of death was listed as Covid.
However, since her death, Namrata’s father said his daughter had told him that she had been harassed and raped after she left for Tikri.
Namrata was an artist and designer from West Bengal. On April 4, she attended a public meeting at Hooghly hosted by the Kisan Social Army, which acts as a media coordinator of the farmer protests at Delhi’s borders, to drum up support for the protests.
Six people had come to the area from Delhi to host the meeting: Anil Malik, 40, Anup Singh Chahnot, 27, Ankush Sangwan, 23, Jagdish Brar, 32, Kavita Arya, 27, and Yogita Suhag, 24.
Anil, Anup, Ankush and Kavita are members of the Kisan Social Army. Yogita is a social activist participating in the protests, and Jagdish is a member of the Kirti Kisan Union.
Namrata had wanted to attend the protests in Delhi, so she decided to travel back with them.
The details of what happened next came from Namrata’s father.
On May 8, he filed an FIR at the Bahadurgarh city police station. The FIR named Anil, Anup, Ankush, Jagdish, Kavita and Yogita, and was filed under penal charges including kidnapping, abduction and gangrape.
Two days later, he saying he met his daughter at the hospital on April 29, and that’s when he came to know about the alleged gangrape.
“She told me she had been harassed and raped after she left for Tikri,” the Indian Express quoted him as saying. “In the train, one of the accused grabbed her hand and forcefully kissed her. After she came to Tikri, she was staying in the tent of the Kisan Social Army, where two of the men who had accompanied her raped her. She told me that they had been blackmailing her.”
During the press conference, the father said his complaint had named only Anil Malik and Anup Singh Chahnot. The police had subsequently named the other four too.
Yet Namrata’s father said the two women, Kavita and Yogita, had been “helping me since I came here” and that while he wanted the “accused to be punished, the innocent should not have to suffer”.
But Bahadurgarh station house officer Neelam Singh told Newslaundry that the father had, in fact, named all six in his complaint. “All mentioned in the complaint had a crucial role and must be associated with the case. Hence, we named all [in the FIR],” she said. “We are investigating it.”
Namrata’s father was unavailable for comment.
Newslaundry reached out to Kavita Arya and Yogita Suhag, who are named in the FIR. Kavita had accompanied Namrata and the four men in the train from Howrah to Delhi. Additionally, Namrata had told Yogita in detail what had transpired, and Yogita had a video recording of what she said.
Both Yogita and Kavita told Newslaundry they had been “wrongly named” in the FIR.
The train journey and a video recording
Kavita Arya is a resident of Patwan village in Bhiwani district, Haryana. She joined the farmer protests at Tikri on November 26, 2020.
On April 2, she went to Hooghly. A Kisan Social Army representative had told her that they were needed to publicise the movement in Bengal, in accordance with instructions from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella organisation of farmer leaders.
Yogita, a social media activist who had joined the Delhi protests in November, went along with her. Yogita knew Anil, Anup, Ankush and Jagdish through the Samyukt Kisan Morcha and thought the trip to Bengal would be a learning experience.
On April 4, at a public campaign conducted by Samyukt Kisan Morcha in Chandan Nagar in Hooghly, Kavita and Yogita met Namrata for the first time. Namrata said she wanted to “witness” and “be a part of” the farmer protests in Delhi, Yogita said. And so, Namrata decided to go to Delhi with them.
Kavita told Newslaundry that Anil, Anup, Ankush and Jagdish had okayed this plan but she herself was hesitant.
“I had asked them, ‘Why are you taking a single woman with you?’” Kavita said, meaning that Namrata would be at the protest without her family or anyone else known to her. “They replied that she was their responsibility and I shouldn’t get involved. So, I didn’t say anything.” Yogita, meanwhile, had taken a flight back to Delhi on April 7.
So, at 8 am on April 11, the four men, Kavita and Namrata boarded the Poorva Express at Howrah station.
During the journey, Kavita said, she did not notice anything suspicious.
“Namrata was mostly speaking with the men, primarily Anil Malik,” she said. “They were watching videos and listening to songs together.” It was an overnight journey, and Kavita fell asleep after dinner.
The train reached Delhi at 6 am. The six of them proceeded to the Tikri protest site. Here, Namrata stayed with Anil, Anup and Ankush, Yogita added, and on April 14, she moved to Jagdish’s tent.
It was on April 15 near the main stage at the border that Namrata told Yogita and Kavita what had happened during the train journey.
“She told me Anil Malik was very bad; he had tried to forcefully kiss her on the train and used to send perverted messages to her during her stay at the Tikri border,” Yogita said. “She was not very fluent in Hindi. She said, ‘Ae log bahut ganda hai.’” Those people are very dirty.
On April 16, Yogita shot a video of Namrata explaining what had happened. The video, which is four and a half minutes long, was shared with this reporter. In it, Namrata is asked by Yogita if Anil did “anything wrong” with her.
Namrata replied, “I was sleeping in the lowest berth when I saw Anil sitting near my feet. I asked him why he was there. He didn’t respond. Then he got on top of me, held both my hands, and started kissing me on the lips. I was not able to walk properly after that. When we were in the car, I was feeling very sleepy and he started touching my legs.”
This car journey possibly refers to their taxi ride from the station to Tikri border.
In the video, Namrata also says she did not tell anyone about it because she didn’t want the protest to be “defamed” because of her. She adds that she told “Jagdish bhaiya” what happened, referring to one of the four men. She says one of men told her, "‘I will complain to your father and will send you back to Bengal."
Why did Yogita shoot this video? It came naturally, she said, since she’s part of the social media team at the protests. She added, “I thought I should have the video statement because you never know what will happen in the future.”
And a day later, Yogita said, she decided to tell people about it: Rajinder Singh Deep Singh Wala, vice president of the Kirti Kisan Union, who “did not take the matter seriously” and put her on to Manga Singh Azad, a member of Naujawan Bharat Sabha and used to stay in Kirti Kisan Union’s tent at the border.
Rajinder confirmed to Newslaundry that he had received a call from Yogita at around 6 pm on April 17.
“She did not even introduce herself and just said there was some issue regarding a woman at the Tikri border,” he said. “We hardly spoke for 70 seconds. Can one understand the whole incident in 70 seconds?”
Rajinder added that he had been in Punjab until April 25, since farmers go back and forth from the protests and their homes on a rotation basis, which is why he told Yogita to speak to Manga Singh Azad. He learned about Namrata only on April 30 after she had died.
Manga Singh Azad told Newslaundry that Yogita had never contacted him.
“Since I had fallen ill and had a fever, I went back home to Punjab on April 25-26,” he said. “While I was in Punjab, I saw on the news that a woman had been assaulted. Before that, I never knew about it.”
Yogita told Newslaundry that she also spoke to Bhupinder Chaudhary and Rajesh Kundu, whom she described as senior members of the Kisan Social Army, though Rajesh told Newslaundry he was merely a journalist. Chaudhary said he was a farmer activist.
“Chaudhary and Kundu made fun of me,” she claimed. “Kundu is also a journalist. They told me that if I raise this matter, they will have to go against me, and if I go to the police, they will try and portray me wrongly.”
Both Rajesh Kundu and Bhupinder Chaudhary flatly denied this.
Rajesh told Newslaundry, “Since I am a journalist, I got to know through some sources that a girl had been harassed. To verify the news, around April 17 or 18, I had asked Yogita about it.”
But when he spoke to Yogita, he said, he “did not find anything substantial” in what she said. “She said that Anil Malik had harassed her [Namrata] and there was no mention of rape,” he said. “But there were no facts in it. I found it suspicious, so I did not do any story on it.”
Bhupinder Chaudhary said Yogita had texted him on April 18 informing him that Namrata had been sexually assaulted.
“I was in Haryana then since my grandmother was ill,” he said. “She asked me if I could connect her with someone from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha. But I first asked her to explain the incident in detail to me.”
He then met Yogita at the Tikri site on April 20. “However, I said that I won't be able to do anything in the case and instead suggested that she should speak to someone either from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, or go to the police,” he said.
Yogita then held a meeting at the border on April 18. It was attended by lawyers Chitwan Godara, Amit Sangwan, Himmat Singh Brar, Jagdish and Namrata, among others. At the meeting, it was decided that the matter would be taken to the leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha.
On April 21, Anil Malik threatened to kill himself, Yogita claimed. Anil, an ex-army officer, told her, “I am going to die. I told you that my honour is more dear to me.” Anil even sent her videos of him driving recklessly and weeping and photographs of his face near a ceiling fan.
This scared her, she said, so she backed off and the meeting with the Samyukt Kisan Morcha never happened.
“There is no women representation at the farmer protest, no committee for women where we could go address our grievances,” Yogita said. She also said that since she had made Namrata’s video, she’s worried about her family’s safety.
“There is only one proof against the culprits. I fear for my family now,” she said.
Covid, and death
After Namrata told Kavita and Yogita about what had happened, she moved into Kavita’s tent on April 15. Kavita herself had left the protest site because a family member in her village in Haryana was unwell.
On April 17, Namrata moved into a separate tent next to Kavita’s. Three days later, Namrata telephoned Kavita, saying she had a high fever.
Kavita returned to Tikri on April 24. She found Namrata in Jagdish’s tent, “coughing a lot with breathing difficulties”.
“I was sure she had Covid because she had all the symptoms,” Kavita told Newslaundry. “I asked her to come to my tent but she said she could not walk the distance.”
At 7 pm that day, a group of men brought Namrata to Kavita’s tent. By 3 am, Namrata’s health was clearly deteriorating.
So, the following morning, Kavita enlisted some farmers to help her take Namrata to a local clinic nearby, which operates out of a tent at Tikri. There, Dr Sawai Man Singh said Namrata seemed to have Covid and that her oxygen level was below 45.
“The doctors gave some medicines,” Kavita said, adding that they then returned to the protest site. “Later, he phoned me to say she should be immediately admitted to a hospital.”
The doctor contradicts this, claiming that there was “no sign of Namrata having corona”. “She was a thyroid patient,” he said instead. “She said that she was not feeling well, had weakness and complained of having a severe headache. Since she did not have any Covid symptoms, I did not advise on getting a Covid test done and instead gave her some paracetamols.”
He also claimed that he never called Kavita and told her to get Namrata admitted.
On April 26, Kavita took Namrata to Shivam RR Hospital in Bahadurgarh, around four km from the Tikri protest site. Namrata was admitted and Kavita returned to Tikri. She herself had some breathing difficulties, she added, but she did not get herself tested.
According to hospital records at RR Shivam Hospital, Namrata was admitted at 7.30 pm on April 26.
“She had respiratory distress and her condition was very critical. Her oxygen saturation was very low,” said Dr Punit Nigam, the manager of operations at the hospital. A Covid test was administered and came back positive.
Namrata died at 8.30 am on April 30 due to “respiratory failure”, Nigam said. He clarified that Namrata’s treatment had been done by Dr Abhishek Arya. Newslaundry tried to contact Arya but he had been hospitalised after testing positive for Covid.
When asked if there were signs of sexual assault on Namrata’s body, Nigam said they hadn’t checked since they had received no complaints about it. “It was only from the media that we came to know about it,” he said. “Neither did the patient say anything nor did anyone who accompanied her. If we had been told, or if we had seen signs of an assault, we would have conducted an MLC test and informed the police.”
An MLC test is a medico legal certificate, a document prepared if injuries are identified on a body.
Newslaundry spoke to at least 10 farmers at the protest site to verify what had happened to Namrata. Most of them were tight-lipped and refused to speak. Some said they did not even know of a woman from Bengal joining the protest.
Namrata’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
Ritika Chauhan contributed reporting.