Rape, Murder and Looting in Mewat: The Night of August 24 th 2016
A team of members from Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression went on a fact finding visit to the village of Dingerheri in Nuh district of the Mewat region of Haryana (bordering Rajasthan) on the 21 st September 2016. According to very sparse news reports that only trickled in around mid September, a horrific attack had taken place in the dead of night in the outskirts of this village. A couple was murdered, their house looted, two young women gangraped, and several other members seriously injured while they were sleeping. They were all Muslim. The case was to be handed over to the CBI.
Brief historical background to the Mewat region and its Meo Culture.
Historically, the region of Mewat has evolved and acquired a distinct cultural identity in different historical contexts. Meos, or Mevs, are the principal inhabitants of the region. They have an identity as peasant-pastoralists. In pre-colonial and colonial times, Meos were mainly pastoralists, who tended cattle and engaged in cattle-breeding. Their oral tradition refers to their popular pastoral culture, which cuts across the bounds of caste, community and religion and continues to appeal to diverse pastoral and peasant groups well into the nineteenth century. Meos shared this vibrant popular culture with Hindu peasant-pastoral communities like Ahirs, Gujars and Jats. Historically, Meos, though Muslims, subscribed to pluralist cultural traditions; they were cow-protectors and cow-worshippers and had mixed Hindu and Muslim names (which many still retain). Tracing their lineage from Ram and Krishan, they celebrated many Hindu festivals including Diwali and Holi.
The colonial state endeavored to settle Meos as peasants and yet they continued to practice pastoralism and pastoral cultural traditions. For their continuing pastoralist activities, the British ethnographers/ officials labelled them as “criminal tribes”. The politics of reformist movements, especially the Arya Samaj and Tablighi movement, polarized the Mewati society and social order and changed its popular culture and inclusive pastoral traditions. The Arya Samaj and Tablighi movements, in the early twentieth century, shaped Hindu and Muslim identities in the region, and exacerbated the tension between peasant-pastoralist groups. For instance, Meos, claiming a fluid identity, were mobilized by the Tablighi movement, while Hindu peasant groups like Ahirs/Yadavs, Jats, Rajputs came under the influence of the Arya Samaj. The British colonial state, with its agrarian and legislative policies, furthered the process of separate identities, and as a result religious communitarian claims and identifications came to the fore. The popular traditions of Mewat were diminished in the process. Cow thus became a contested symbol among pastoral-peasant groups competing with each other.
The cultural landscape of Mewat has further eroded after Partition. The administrative requirements of the Indian state, after 1947, further fractured the traditional inter-communitarian networks in the region. The Mewat region has been systematically divided and reconfigured in recent decades. In 2014, the Hooda (Congress) government included Tauru in Gurgaon, and excluded it from the Mewat region. Meos perceived this as a political move “based on faith” [See The Times of India, 22 August 2014]. The demand came under the pressure of a section of Hindu residents of Tauru, a Hindu-dominated town in a Muslim-dominated Mewat.
The recent violence in September 2016 in the village of Dingerheri, which now comes under the jurisdiction of Tauru, reflects the isolation, vulnerability and marginalization of Meos as a result of such political, administrative processes and dislocations.
First meeting at the site of the attack
The WSS team arrived at Dingerheri around 10am on the 21 st September and were given directions to an open area outside the village where men had already gathered and a pandal was being erected for a visiting delegation of MPs from the CPI(M). We were greeted by Arif Mohammad, a relative of the family and several men of varying ages. In response to our questions we were informed that the incident took place at the very place where we were now sitting. The small house behind us belonged to the couple who had been killed. They had come from UP some years ago to settle here and had leased the land from a Chaudhuri now based in Delhi. Several members were sleeping outdoors that night including relatives from the village. A young girl (a niece of the couple) barely 15 years old and her cousin, newly married with a baby, were sleeping indoors and were gangraped during the attack. The family members confirmed that one of the girls was told that “tum beef khane valo ka yehi hoga” (this is what will happen to you beef eaters), while she was being assaulted. Everyone was mercilessly attacked with rods and primarily sustained head injuries, suggesting that the attackers were specifically aiming for their heads. Both the deaths were mainly due to head injuries according to medical reports. Though the exact number cannot be verified the survivors think about 8-10 men were among the attackers, as all survivors were attacked by 4-5 men who seemed to be coordinating with another group over the phone. Among the survivors one is still in AIIMS and another in a hospital in Nuh.
The police arrived some hours after being alerted at 2 am, but the FIR was only filed at 9 am the following morning. The accused were charged under Sections 459, 460 and section 376D, which only carry maximum sentences of 10 years. There was palpable anger that it required the action of lawyers to bring charges under Sections 302, 307, 396 and 397. The case is being fought by the Bar Association of Mewat. It was only after they met the SP and DSP (at Tauru, the nearest police station) that several sections were added, though according to what we were told Section 307 had still not been filed.
Even worse, no one from the government has come to visit and the Chief Minister made a statement that this is but a “choti moti” issue, and even refused to meet a delegation in Gurgaon. A dharna of Meo Youth against the CM’s statement was organized where it was condemned. (Comments: In a state where Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao is a slogan, how can a CM without a daughter understand it?) This village has never seen any kind of significant crimes let alone violence of such magnitude. Only because opposition parties and other groups took up the issue has there been some action taken by the police.
We were also told by the lawyer present that police did the paper work only for the sake of formality. Even the Medico-legal report (MLR) is of 18 pages but only one page is filled by the doctor. Both the rape survivors were treated and examined exactly at the same time at 6.30 pm by Dr Jyoti. The physical injuries were not reported in the MLR. The girls went to identify the accused and they identified four men, though the police didn’t report that the girls visited the police station for identification of perpetrators. The police were very insensitive towards the rape survivors. They were kept for hours along with the two dead bodies, then taken to the magistrate for giving statement 164. No counselling was provided and they continue to be in fear.
Though everyone has been informed that the CBI has now taken over the case, no one from the CBI has visited the site so far or met with anyone. Several police officers from the area have been transferred out or even promoted elsewhere, because of their treatment of the case. Four people have been arrested but at least 4-5 others are roaming free. The men identified are from neighbouring Mohammadpur just across the highway. They are young unemployed men from the Yadav community (who had worked in factory nearby) well known for getting drunk and doing drugs under the highway bridge that separates the two localities.
There is a definite political background to the issue. The RSS has been organising gau rakshaks from among local unemployed Hindu youth in the area who have become extortionists. They move around in cars looting vehicles with impunity. A year ago there was an RSS training camp in the nearby Saini village; another sammelan in Gurgaon last year of the Gau Rakshak Dal had demanded that they be given the power to check vehicles. The panchayat gave them this power, and it has now become their “business” (dukaan) to stop trucks on the highway. Of the four arrested men now in police remand – Amarjeet and Rahul were volunteers with the RSS and had declared themselves ‘Modi-bhakt’ on Facebook. Both of them are in Nandu Dhani across the highway.
According to the men we spoke to there has been little to no interaction between the villages. The KMT bridge divides Nandu Dhani from their side of Dingerheri, which has about 20 Yadav households. This side of the village has a majority of Muslims (100 households), a few Pandits, Gujjars and about 50 Harijan/Balmiki families . Dingerheri has about 200 households all told. The Muslim householdss are mostly poor, with small holdings, whose owners work in others’ fields. Others have their own land or have taken land on lease, such as the couple who were murdered, and many look after cattle. The Yadavs work mostly on their own fields and occasionally employ the Muslims or Harijans to work on their fields.
There was absolutely no precedent to this attack which was carefully planned. According to them, this was an RSS attack preceded by a 10 day training programme in Sainikpura. The house that was attacked was isolated from the rest of the village and was somewhat closer to the Yadav area across the highway: this was their target.
After the attack, a Mahapanchayat was held on the 1 st of September, with members from 32 communities at the Tauru Anaj Mandi. The primary demand was ‘faasi do’ to the perpetrators. No one came from the Nandu dhani (“dhani se koi nahi aaya”). The first panchayat demanded a CBI enquiry, adequate compensation, work for 3 persons of the complainants’ family, and a police outpost at the crossing of the KMT highway bridge. Another panchayat was held in Tauru, and a third was the meeting called by intellectuals and others by the Bar Association. A dharna had been planned for the 9 th of September at Nuh, but since a delegation met the CM on the 7 th of September, it did not happen.
Among the demands of the villagers is that the CM must apologise and visit them. There should be compensation to the victims and employment to families of the survivors. The rest of the perpetrators must be arrested and tried in a fast track court and the FIR must reflect all relevant sections. Till now all medical expenses are being borne by the families except for stay in government hospitals. All the opposition parties have come, and other civil society leaders from Haryana and Delhi have also visited them.
An elderly Maulana started to speak on Mewat – Mewat has a long patriotic history, and Meos have their own versions of history. “We Muslims of Mewat were converted not by the sword, but by the love (pyar) of Nizammudin Chishthi. We fought against Babar and fought for Rana Sangha. Several famous kings and pirs are from here. In the battle between Meos and Mughals, Mewatis were martyred. 15 th march is celebrated as Shaheed Diwas. We stood by Shivaji and stood against Aurangzeb. Later, we fought the British for azadi. Once the British left, we thought the bharat sarkar was with us. But look at what has happened. Our two main occupations are kheti (farming) and pashupalan (cattle breeding). They talk of vikas (development) and build big buildings but our lands are taken away. Even when we struggle to perform labour, there is no work for us. The contractor only gives us temporary work. We have become slaves (ghulam) in our own land now after this so called independence. We were famed for our communal harmony and now look at this crime. The RSS has a role in this.
In Alwar Zila – Kolani Gaon, 12 people are in jail. We tell the police (SP) that we don’t know if they are the ones. But who has given the Bajrang Dal the permission to loot and destroy homes and lives? We are the true Gau-palak/rakshak – we protect cows. These gau-rakshaks don’t even have cows. We used to have 100s of cows and in our stories you can see that we would award each others’ cows as prizes. All of our people’s stories are linked to cows. That Gyanendra Ahuja is ‘agyani’ (laughter). We want to keep the spirit of camaraderie of Mewat and fight against this divide and rule policy.”
A young man at this point intervened and said “we are ready to fight the RSS and its poisoning of our tolerant culture at any cost”.
“Fight against whom? Our own brothers? We don’t want this ‘Kashmiri Culture’. We have our desi culture,” was the Maulana’s reply.
The police has failed to collect evidence, have probably destroyed evidence and should be charge sheeted. SIT Ashish Choudhury has been transferred and promoted to the Vigilance branch, officer Shakuntala is DSP, only SHO Kamlesh still remains at Tauru police station.
Meeting with one of the rape survivors in the village
Three from our team then went to the village and visited the home of the sister of the murdered couple (mami) who had survived the attack and whose daughter was the younger one to have been raped that night. Her cousin sister, the other survivor, was away at a relative’s place in Nuh.
We first met the mother who said she was hit by a rod while she was sleeping. There were about 11 of them sleeping outdoors that night many of them children. She saw 4 or 5 of the attackers. They poured cold water over them to check if they were dead. Two were killed, the rest brutally beaten, tied and gagged. The attackers stayed for two and a half to three hours. During this time they looted the house.
We were then taken upstairs to meet the daughter who was in a room by herself, initially very shy and keeping her head averted. She recounted haltingly that the police arrived at 4 am. She remembers there being at least 4 attackers and they made her smell something (sunghaya) so she became unconscious. She was beaten on the left arm, left leg and stomach. That morning the police took them both for a mulaqat and medical. They spent about one and a half hours at the police station and another half hour at the Lalhad Hospital. Niyamat mama took them for their medical checks. She herself spent a day in the hospital. She did not want to talk further about the experience with the police or medical examination, “What is there to say?” she asked.
Her cousin sister still complains of regular stomach ache. She is married and has an 8-month- old child. The attackers used the child by holding a knife against its throat and so raped them. She saw four of the attackers, one of them talked on the phone and said, we have killed four, how many more should we do?
Her elder cousin sister is married to a man in Gurgaon. They tried to suffocate her and doused her with cold water to check whether she was still alive. She has been married for two years and her in-laws no longer want her to stay with them. She is staying in Nuh with a relative. (After our return we made inquiries with Jagmati Sangwan of AIDWA who have visited the village several times and protested the case. According to Jagmati, the husband is very understanding and it is only the in-laws who have been giving trouble. There is no question that the husband is with her and their baby.) The attackers looted the home as well. They made off with roughly one and half lakhs of rupees (her tau works as a Coca-Cola agent), gold and silver jewellery and broke the lock of an attache case.
Though we were very unsure of ourselves when we began our conversation with her as she seemed so vulnerable, gradually she opened up, her face brightened and she became more forthcoming and direct as the conversation proceeded. So we left with some minimum assurance that we had not added to her trauma. She has studied till the fifth class and usually keeps herself busy in household chores or else watches TV. She also works in the fields, taken on lease by the family. Now she is quite lonely with few people coming to visit.
Downstairs a large group had gathered which included the anganwadi worker, the ANM, and the ASHA worker. Significantly, they were all Hindu in spite of the fact that this is a Muslim majority village. They spoke strongly against the incident, saying nothing like this had ever happened before, and it created fear for all for them. This was a “good” village where everyone lived in harmony. They go to each other’s festivals and weddings. It is the outsiders who have destroyed their peaceful existence. The pradhan of the village, Deepal Sharma (a pandit) was the brother in law of the anganwadi worker – she reported that he was called for questioning several times but did not recognize any of the accused.
Meeting with a Yadav family
The WSS team then decided to try and meet with families across the highway in Nandu ka dhani of Muhammadpur, where the accused come from, which is a Yadav area. It was clearly economically better off than the village we had visited. We split up and after getting a negative response from one house, some of us were able to talk to a Yadav couple, who lived in a well-established home. (They are proud of their two sons, one of whom is with the Haryana police and the other studying MBBS in Bhopal.) According to them, there are roughly 33-34 houses of Yadav’s in Nandu ka Dhani and they have settled here about 50 to 60 years ago.
The man had a fully worked narrative of the attack. From among the victims, at least two belonged to Bisambara Gaon from UP (hence, considered outsiders). In fact, the couple who had been murdered were relative newcomers to the area. They must have been attacked due to some prior enmity from UP which they had run away from. The four boys who were picked up used to work in a factory and were aged 23, 24, 27 and 19. The Yadavs felt that they were picked up because of the intervention of IG Mamta. The police officials who had interrogated the boys said they are innocent and didn’t retrieve any evidence from them. They were interrogated in pairs on 25 th night and 26 th August morning. They asserted that it was all a conspiracy against innocents. A person “Ali” from the nearby Kaliya village got the boys caught as revenge after they had a quarrel over something.
The Yadav couple (though the man did almost all the talking with the wife giving assent) asserted that the family of the victims knew everyone around and so they would know who the perpetrators were. In any case, at least 10-12 people are involved, not 4. The victims’ family has earned 30 to 35 lakhs in the process. They are happy that the CBI has taken over, because then justice will be done.
He man asserted that though the accused get drunk, they are not ‘bad’. They are not tough, and would fall over if pushed, how could they be guilty of murder? The police have been doing a good job and have been conducting the enquiry. But now the families of the accused will have to mortgage their land and jewelry to get them off. The IG Mamta is wrong and the accused should be released as no evidence has been found. The Yadavs met the CM and their MLA over this incident, as it would be unsafe for the boys to remain in jail.
The FIR states that the accused, ‘jaat bhasha bol rahe the’ and have mustaches. Had the boys been guilty they would not have attended the funeral, and would have run away. They have been caught because of outside pressure.
This is a political issue, because this is a Muslim area and Muslims are united. He said, ‘We believe that if the BJP wasn’t in power, we wouldn’t have been here (2-3 villages) and 2 to 3 thousand people would’ve died. The administration has acted pro-actively because of the BJP. It is a stain on the entire village and for weeks no one moved out. This is a Musalman region, and they are illiterate so anything can happen.” Meanwhile we were joined by the man’s elder brother whose son works in Kalkaji police thana in Delhi. We were asked why we had come and who we were. When he heard that we were a women’s organisation investigating issues of violence he mentioned an incident in Puhnana Gaon 15 days ago where one dalit girl was abducted and raped by 7 Muslim men. This village is 20 kms away ahead of Ferozepur Jhirka. Such cases never get reported, according to him..
Meeting with relatives of the accused
The other members of the team tried to talk to other Yadav families in the area. We were directed to the houses of the accused and their relatives after some effort. The women in the family claimed they knew nothing about the incident or why it happened. However, some Yadav men related to one of the accused, Karamjeet, talked to us outside the courtyard a little more frankly about the accused and the incident. This man said that they were not on good terms with Karamjeet’s nuclear family. He said that the boys who had perpetrated the attack were up to no good, getting drunk every night, waylaying trucks for extortion and not for any reasons related to cow welfare. He confirmed that this activity was started under the influence of the RSS forming a gau raksha dal and that before that, gau raksha was not a euphemism for extortion but referred to taking care of one’s cows, an activity that Hindus and Muslims take pride in alike. He also said that while most Hindus in the village would not talk to outsiders about this, many people want to distance themselves from the attackers who have spoiled their exemplary communal harmony. He hinted that there are plans to match the DNA of these four accused and put the complete blame on them, even though many more were involved.
We met Karamjeet’s tau and grandfather. They admitted that one night before the incident, they were called by the neighbours and informed that their son was found dead drunk on the streets. He was brought home, scolded and warned not to repeat this. They also insisted that on the night of the incident (from the evening), Karamjeet was with the family. Karamjeet is 24 years old, and has worked with Figro Glass Company in Manesar. He was laid off a month ago and used to work with the family in the fields. His job was temporary and many workers were laid off at that time. The grandfather told us that the arrest of their son and his three friends was made on the basis of an observation by a man in Dingerheri, who has seen these four boys wandering about drunk many times. Three of the accused, Sandeep, Amarjeet and Karamjeet have families and land here, while the fourth accused Rahul (from Bihar) could easily have run away, but did not. Rahul’s father works in a near-by factory, and they had plenty of time to run away to their hometown in Bihar. They also mentioned that some of the victims hail from UP and recently came to live with relatives in Dingerheri. So according to Karamjeet’s uncle, the incident could be the result of an older enmity in UP itself. (This is similar to what we were told by the other Yadav family).
One of us also met Karamjeet’s mother in a separate room where her daughter-in- law joined us later along with two more women. She started crying and said that her son is not at all guilty. “He is just 24, he may be notorious but he couldn’t commit such a crime. We know he has stopped trucks full of cows sometimes on the highway, extorted money from the truck drivers.” They were told by the police that he sometimes runs with other 500 young men mornings and evenings. On being asked about his friends she said, “uska to koi dost he nahi hai”. On being asked about Sandeep, Amarjeet and Rahul she responded by saying that he used to go running with these boys. She also repeated the same incident when the night before the attack Karamjeet was caught drunk.
Tauru: Meeting with the Police Inspector
Our final stop was to go to the police headquarters at Tauru under whose jurisdiction Dingerheri village comes. We were kept waiting in a large well- endowed police station and then three of us met with the SHO Kamlesh. Initially, he was extremely curt if not rude, wanting to know what business we had here and why we were asking questions, and why he should answer any of them. He kept demanding that we provide a visiting card, and it was only when one of us finally offered to give him a professional card and spoke in English that his manner changed somewhat though he continued to be extremely cautious. He boasted that he had been nominated for a gallantry award and had been brought to this post from Gurgaon. He drove his own car in the dead of night when information about the Dingerheri case came to the police station as the police van was out on a raid at the time. He went alone with nothing but his gun for protection. He made sure the case was lodged. Others may have been transferred but he emphasized that he was very much here because no one had any issues with his handling of the case. Moreover, he repeated multiple times that he has a reputation for being very open and “people friendly”.
He repeatedly emphasized that this is a very sensitive case. He said that after all there have been communal situations in this region and Muslims are capable of anything. In 2014, a riot broke out here, and some people were killed. It is a 50-50 situation of Muslim and Hindus but further south Mewat is Muslim dominated. So it is absolutely essential to keep control on the situation. That is why it is now with SIT and CBI. There have been no faults on the part of the police and everything is taken care of. When we said that the people have been unsatisfied with police action and still felt vulnerable, he just dismissed it. He said people wanted more sections added to the case and that has now been done. The people have nothing to fear and there is now a police van stationed at Dingerheri. (We remembered seeing a policeman sleeping under the highway bridge when we crossed over.) But he refused to divulge any information about the case itself, the evidence against the accused, or the nature of the crime, or what was the plan with the CBI. We took our leave.
We must conclude this fact finding trip with our stopover in the late afternoon for some lunch at a small dhaba on the road side on our way back. We were sitting inside when our driver made some gestures to us pointing to some young men outside who were exhibiting typical loud mouth loutish behaviour. It seemed harmless enough and so we waved him off. After we returned to the car the driver (known to one of us, and a cut sardar) informed us that the boys were bajrang dalis, who kept opening their pockets to show their revolvers, and generally bragging. So he went up to them and told them that he was from Punjab, and had been a member of the akali dal and had carried an AK 47 in his own time. This he said shut them up as they became quite deferential and referred to him as ‘uncle’. So what might have been in store for us at the end of this remarkable trip?
We believe that some follow up is needed. As already mentioned one of us has contacted Jagmati Sangwan to find out more about whether indeed the rape survivor who is married has been abandoned by her family, but this does not appear to be the case. There has been no further news in the media inspite of the fact that this is such a major crime with communal repercussions.
Report prepared by: Arya, Chaitanya, Vidhya, Mary, Ajita and Bittu