There are many pointing to “another ” in Bulandshahr, where a 16-year-old was found dead last month in Dharao village, 18 km away from her home in Galimpur.
There were ostensible similarities after all: the death of a lower caste minor, "forced" cremation, allegations of gangrape against upper-caste men, counter claims about a “love affair” having gone awry, and a family waiting for justice.
Some claimed that Neelam* left her house at 3 pm on January 21 and that she was taken away in a car by four men. Another report alleged that the father was aware that she was leaving her home for “an outing” with the accused, and that she voluntarily got onto a motorcycle with him and left the village.
However, Newslaundry learnt that there was no eyewitness to substantiate either claim. Nobody saw her leave Galimpur or arrive at Dharao. We tried to piece together what happened on the basis of interviews and records, and to spot the contradictions, if any, between the versions given by the relatives of the minor, the accused and the police, considering the differing reports carried in the media.
At 4 pm on January 21, Chhatari police station officials said they received a call from an unidentified person informing them of a “murder” that had taken place in a room attached to a tubewell in Dharao. Chhatari police SHO Rahul Chaudhry said that they immediately rushed to the site 3 km away and “did not ask the caller for his identity”. Police have not investigated the source of this call.
The room with a single door is attached to a tubewell, placed amid mustard fields and two km away from the last house in the village. The door, the SHO said, was locked, and a 29-year-old man named Saurabh Sharma, with “deep cuts” on his wrists and neck, opened it when the police arrived on the spot. A girl lay on the floor, a bullet wound on her forehead. Sharma had tried to die by suicide, Chaudhry said.
Sharma was taken for medical treatment and remained in police custody. The family named four more Dharao residents as accused: Mahender Sharma, 40, who owned the tubewell, his son Shivam Sharma, a 16-year-old nephew, and Anuj Sharma, his 22-year-old nephew. They are all neighbours in Dharao. Mahender is absconding while the rest have been held.
While police said that they received the tipoff at 4 pm and “immediately reached the spot”, Reshmi Devi, the girl’s 60-year-old grandmother who lives in Dharao, said she noticed police vehicles come into the village only at 5 pm. She said a policeman on a motorcycle arrived at her house at 6 pm, and asked her if the house belonged to “harijans” and if she had a relative in Galimpur. “He asked me if there was anyone named Neelam who lived in the house. I told him that Neelam was my granddaughter’s name but she was in her village in Galimpur. The policeman then told me that Neelam’s body was found in Mahender Sharma’s tubewell and that I had to go and identify the body.”
Meanwhile, Saurabh’s former employer Yashodhan Singh said, “I got a call from the police at 3 in the afternoon. They told me that a girl’s body was found in the tubewell but the police were not allowing anyone to go near the incident site.”
Newslaundry could not independently verify when the police got the tipoff, when they reached the village, and if Yashodhan received the phone call from the police at 3 pm.
The SHO said calls were made to multiple villagers and he does not remember if Yashodhan was among them.
The home of Saurabh Sharma, one of the accused.
Rape or ‘love affair’?
As per the FIR seen by Newslaundry, the police registered the case under section 302 of the IPC which pertains to murder at 11.35 pm. Despite the family’s wishes, sections of gang rape were not added to the FIR.
Police said that the case was of a “love affair” gone wrong and that the post mortem report did not show signs of rape.
The post mortem was done at Bulandshahr District Hospital, but Neelam’s family was unsatisfied with the report. They demanded that it be redone but they claim that the police threatened them and took the body to the police station at 6 pm the next day on January 22. However, as per the wishes of the family, a sample slide was sent to the forensic science laboratory in Niwari, 16 km away. A report is awaited. “There is no update in the sample…sent for DNA (test),” SHO Chaudhry said on Tuesday.
Neelam’s uncle said, “She was brought from one village to another. It cannot be the work of one person…There were also marks on her face and neck.”
Neeraj, who is Shivam’s mother, Mahender’s wife and pradhan of Dharao village, however, alleged that members of the community Neelam belongs to were conspiring against her family because they were “jealous” of her being elected as pradhan. “She was going to get married [to someone else] and Saurabh loved her. This is why he must have shot her in a fit of rage.”
Asked where her husband was, she refused to entertain the question. “The key to the tubewell room door hangs in the courtyard. Any villager can take the key, we don’t keep a track of it. That day [January 21], Saurabh took the key from my son, Shivam. I don’t know anything more.”
Neelam’s uncle Balakrishan said, “There were a lot of people at the police station that day and the police threatened all of us to leave the station premises. We waited for two hours but there was no sign that we would get the body. We asked that the allegation of gang rape be added to the FIR but the police said that Saurabh had confessed to only shooting her and that nothing else had happened.”
On February 1, SSP Santosh Kumar Singh , “The girl and the boy were known to each other. The girl sat on a bike with the accused and came to Dharao on her own free will after which both of them went to the tubewell. There the boy shot the girl and murdered her.”
But did Saurabh know how to ride a bike?
The father, uncle and aunt of the 16-year-old accused who has been arrested told Newslaundry that he left his home at 11.30 am on January 21 to drive Saurabh somewhere on a motorcycle since the latter, allegedly, does not know how to ride one.
Yashodhan, who owns a brick kiln where Saurabh worked for a few days, said, “Saurabh started his job with me on January 16 but he left after four or five days…he does not know how to ride a bike. I had sent him once to get tea but he refused because he said he did not know how to ride a bike.”
In the statement on February 1, SSP Santosh Kumar Singh also said that the girl’s “family also conducted the last rites as per their own will at the Ganga ghat”.
Was the cremation forced?
According to Neelam’s family, they were given her body only after the postmortem on the next day of the incident, on January 22, and by the time they got it, night had fallen which meant that the family wanted to wait till morning before cremating her.
Chhatari police station.
The village at night.
Balakrishan alleged, “After they handed the body to us and we were on our way to Galimpur, a police car stopped us on the way and told us that we had to perform the last rites that night. A little later another police car came up to us. We were told that only after performing the last rites would the police cooperate with us in the investigation.”
Neelam’s family claimed that the police accompanied them to Rajghat, 12 km from Galimpur, to ensure that they cremated her. They were not allowed to take pictures of the cremation, they alleged.
However, the police deny the family’s claim of police intimidation and forced cremation. They said that the family conducted the last rites as per their own free will.
On February 1, on the day the SSP issued a statement, Neelam’s father went to Rajghat to collect her death certificate but returned empty-handed as her cremation had not been recorded in the cremation ground’s register.
Sachin, 26, the caretaker of the cremation ground showed us the register but there was no entry for January 22. “I leave the grounds at 9 pm. The gates of the ghat remain open throughout the night and if there was a body burnt in the middle of the night then I do not know about it. However, when I came to the grounds on the morning of January 23, there was burnt wood in the pyre. I did not know whose body it was.”
However, few residents in the vicinity of the cremation ground told Newslaundry that “many” had gathered for a cremation late night in the “presence of police”.
On January 25, the family demanded that the case be transferred to another station as they “did not trust” the officials. Two days later, the case was transferred to Jahangirabad police station 39 km away.
Akhilesh Tripathi, who has been named as the investigating officer, said he has “taken complete information from the family” and “the report will be handed over to the top officers soon”. He did not provide any other details regarding the case.
Neelam’s family believed that the reason why her case was being “hushed up” was because the accused were all upper-caste.
Saurabh’s brother Monu said, “We don’t have anything to say. We have severed our ties with Saurabh. Please leave us alone.”
On February 3, as the family waited for Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi to visit them, and two police officials deployed for the family’s security hovered around the house, Neelam’s grandfather stared at the fire, unmoved by the growing crowd.
Asked about the theory about Saurabh’s actions being triggered by “plans” of Neelam being married off to someone else, he said, “She was not being married off to anyone. She was not in a relationship with the man who did this to her. If he loved her, why would he shoot her? This case is being hushed up but we will get justice for our girl.”
*Name of the minor changed to protect her identity
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