At 10.42 am on January 7, Asha’s brother’s phone rang.
He was taking a shower and missed the call. When he later called the number back, the person on the other end cut the call. When he ran the number on TrueCaller, an app that identifies phone numbers, the name read “Lalit Thakur” with a photo alongside it.
Asha’s brother immediately recognised the name and the face – and froze.
Lalit Thakur is his neighbour. He’s also the brother of Luvkush, a man accused of raping Asha 15 months ago. Asha, 19, a Dalit woman, was in September 2020. She later died and her body was by the UP police. Four upper caste men from her village – Sandeep, Ravi, Ramu and Luvkush – were arrested and the trial in the case is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Asha’s family continues to live wedged between the homes of Luvkush, located behind them, and Sandeep, Ramu and Ravi’s homes opposite. In a village dominated by upper-caste Thakur families, Asha’s is one of four Valmiki Dalit families.
“The case is still going on and we’ve already been living under so much threat,” said Asha’s brother. “We’ve been threatened in court. Our lawyer receives death threats. And in our village, we are afraid of being attacked by the upper caste. We’re constantly afraid. So, when we saw a call from them, it scared us again.”
Asha’s brother immediately informed one of the 40 CRPF personnel guarding their home in Hathras.
“The CRPF took the number from us and called it,” he said. “They met Lalit and asked him why he called us. Lalit told them it was by mistake. When they checked his phone, he had deleted his call history.”
The same evening, after speaking to their lawyer, Asha’s family filed a complaint at the Hathras police station, requesting the police to “take sufficient steps to provide us with suitable protection as soon as possible”.
The station house officer told Newslaundry that based on the complaint, Lalit was summoned to the station and given a warning.
“Also, Lalit is handicapped,” said inspector Bharat Bhushan. “He said he saw the number in a diary and dialed it by mistake.”
Lalit Thakur refused to speak to Newslaundry.
A history of intimidation
But the call from Lalit Thakur was not the first threat Asha’s family received.
In March last year, Asha’s brother and their lawyer were within the courtroom by other advocates. The special judge presiding over the case adjourned proceedings and ordered the police to escort the family and their lawyer home.
The Lucknow bench at the Allahabad High Court had taken cognizance of the application filed by Asha’s brother detailing the incident. The bench said that going forward, if anyone disrupted proceedings or threatened Asha’s family or the witnesses, severe action would be taken.
The lawyer in the case also told Newslaundry she’s received death threats for taking up the case.
Importantly, in October 2020, after the four men were arrested, Asha’s brother received a text message.
“We suggest that you should accept the truth otherwise the entire country won’t be enough for you to hide,” the message read in Hindi. “I will send you and your mother to jail for the murder of Asha and for that I will receive the reward of 25 lakh rupees, a job and a house.”
The Rs 25 lakh, job and house refers to the compensation to Asha’s family. Asha’s brother referenced this text message in his complaint to the police about Lalit Thakur.
Newslaundry called the phone number cited in the complaint. A person named Vinay Srivastava answered the phone.
“Yes, I sent them the message,” he said. “I have no problem admitting that. I told them to take back the case and admit the truth.”
Srivastava told Newslaundry he lives and works in Hathras as “a journalist”. He believes this is a clear case of “honour killing” that has been “politicised” to look like a rape.
Newslaundry learned that at the time of the gangrape, Srivastava had been working for a website called Falana Dikhana, whose states “Yes U heard it right we broke Hathras case”.
Falana Dikhana has multiple stories on the Hathras case, with headlines like “” and “”. Most of these “reports” suggest that this was not a case of rape.
A piece published on October 8 – titled “” – suggests that Asha and Sandeep, the prime accused in the case, were having an affair, so Asha’s brother killed her.
Srivastava had to this . “I did the investigation for Hathras case and you can find my work on the website Falana Dikhana,” he told Newslaundry. “Not all of them have my byline.”
He quit the website last April and started his own portal called Aakhiri Sach, which contains pieces penned by him, such as “”.
Asha’s brother told Newslaundry that as soon as they received Srivastava’s text that October, the family immediately informed the CBI, which was investigating the case.
“Apart from the CBI, we also went to the circle officer and station house officer in Hathras police station and showed them the message,” he said. “But we never heard back from the CBI or the police.”
Newslaundry asked station house officer Bharat Bhushan whether any action had been taken against Srivastava. “Everything was given to the CBI,” he replied. “It was not under our jurisdiction back then.”
When Newslaundry asked Srivastava whether any action had been taken against him, he laughed.
“No, nobody took any action,” he said. “And if the family felt threatened, then that’s good.”
But former Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur said it isn’t too late to take action against Srivastava. “Action must be taken,” he said. “No one can intimidate a witness and hope to get away with it. This is very basic.”
Asha is a pseudonym to protect identity.
With research assistance by Saeeduzzaman.
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