A funeral, a wedding, an outside job﹘most residents have alibis for where they were on January 26 when an shook Delhi’s Kasturba Nagar. With shoes hung around her neck, her hair cut, and face blackened, 20-year-old Nitya* was beaten up and paraded on the streets, as the neighbourhood cheered on.
A week and 12 arrests later, security has been beefed up in the east Delhi locality. Besides, there has been a “Sikh vs Hindus” social media campaign even as the police said the survivor and the accused are Hindus and from the same Bhedkut community. No one is allowed to enter the narrow lane which has the victim’s maternal house and barricades on both ends; a young woman balancing a baby in her arms is only allowed to pass through after intervention.
Until Tuesday afternoon, Nitya* was in a safe house. On Wednesday, police and the survivor’s sister told Newslaundry that she had returned home with her husband on Tuesday evening. However, her husband said she was still not back.
“They were going to send her back, but her health isn’t good so they’ve said she should stay back for a couple of more days before returning,” he said, adding that while he wished for her to return home soon, he wanted her health to improve as well. He said that he goes to meet her everyday, for half an hour.
But the girl’s sister maintained that she returned to her husband’s house last night. “I met her briefly last night and gave her baby back to her. She’s doing better now.”
Following outrage over the incident, tweets attempted to insinuate that the accused are Hindu and the girl is Sikh. Hashtags such as #SikhGenocideContinues and #NeverForget1984 have been trending. Videos, allegedly from Sikhs from Justice, have asked for a “rail roko” at Delhi’s Shahdara railway station on February 4, with “Sikhs vs Hindus” flashing on screen. As per the police, these tweets were put out from within India as well as countries such as the UK and Canada.
ACP Manoj Pant of Vivek Vihar called it a case of “dirty politics,” perhaps instigated by the upcoming elections. “Until she (survivor) is better and these communal tensions reduce, we prefer she remains in the safe house,” he had told Newslaundry on Tuesday.
Police on Monday filed separate FIRs against three people for spreading misinformation on Twitter and giving the incident a “communal colour”﹘under IPC sections 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), and other provisions.
A video of a group of Nihangs meeting the survivor’s family on Monday night was earlier shared on social media. According to NDTV, an FIR has also been filed against the Nihangs for spreading communal hatred.
On Tuesday, a delegation of the Shiromani Akali Dal also met the girl’s relatives. “The caste of the girl and accused is same, but religion different,” Jaspal Singh, who was part of the party panel, told Newslaundry.
However, ACP Pant said, “The survivor and accused are both from Bhedkut community, a scheduled caste. They are Hindus; their documents say so. But they visit gurdwaras.” He said tension could have been flared because of the survivor's surname. “Anti-national forces get activated in such times."
While the police claimed that Bhedkuts are Hindus, Nitya’s relatives and neighbours said that they, as well as the accused, follow Sikh traditions.
“Even the accused are Bhedkut but they do do number ka kaam (illicit practices),” said the survivor’s aunt, sitting outside her home next to the lane leading to the survivor’s house. She said the accused had an advantage as men from the family are “crippled”.
Newslaundry could not reach out to the family of the accused.
Since the family of the accused dealt in illegal liquor as per the police, there were assumptions that the accused were Sansis, often labelled as liquor peddlers and branded as a “criminal tribe” under British colonial rule. Sansis reside alongside Bhedkuts in Kasturba Nagar and the adjacent Jwala Nagar.
According to community members, Sansis in the area tend to follow Hindu traditions and Bhedkuts Sikh.
“Sansis follow Hindu traditions while Bhedkuts follow Sikh traditions. In this case, the accused and the survivor are from the Bhedkut community...So why is the media highlighting Sansi,” asked Ramesh Rahi from Akhil Bhartiya Sesmal Bhatu Samaj Santh. He said that some media outlets jumped the gun to point to a role of the Sansi community. He has written to the Delhi Women’s Commission and newspapers that have allegedly named the community over the incident and given it a bad name.
“Bhedkuts all over India follow Sikhism and the Guru Granth Sahib,” said Surender, a 45-year-old resident of Kasturba Nagar. “Our parents, grandparents, their parents have been following Sikhism, so we are Sikhs too.”
‘Such incidents happen often’
Around a few houses plastered with frames of Guru Nanak and Hindu deities, some peered from their balconies as a Nihang from Karnal﹘after speaking to the survivor’s relatives in the lane next to her house﹘delivered a speech on Tuesday, asking why no one came to the girl’s rescue.
“Among us right now are the people who were clapping and whistling. How can you do this to women who have given birth to kings? You are sensible and your daughters are our daughters,” said Gurjant Singh Khalsa. “Your area’s reputation is being destroyed. I’m not just saying this as a Sikh but as a human. The administration can give whatever punishment they want to the accused. But from Sikh dharam, they will get punished, no matter what.”
A woman, who lives nearby, said, “Such incidents happen often but they get pushed under the carpet.” But another resident disagreed. “Such a big incident has never happened…it happened behind closed doors so people didn't come to know.”
Pritam Singh, who was part of a delegation of Sikhs who visited the area early afternoon on Tuesday, said, “The video went viral in Punjab, everyone is very upset.” He said there is “sympathy” because of the survivor’s name.
Update on Feb 3: The headline of this report has been updated.
*The victim's name changed to protect her identity.
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