In wake of Badaun rape and murders, politicians and petitioners swarm UP village

Katara village gets its first helipad as Mayawati descends from the sky. But the police have not made any progress in the case.
Photo Credit: Chandan Khanna/AFP
The policemen, as usual, had arrived late. By the time they assembled outside the hut in Katara village in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district, their charge, Samajwadi Party MP Dharmendra Yadav, was already running out of conversation inside.

Of course, it was clear to everyone around that Yadav was late too. Even though two girls had been raped, murdered, and hanged from a tree in Katara village, Yadav had taken five whole days to appear at the site of the outrage. It was only after a highly disturbing image of the crime went viral on social media that the SP finally began to display some urgency. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav fired his chief secretary, ordered an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation and sent Dharmendra Yadav to placate the villagers.

Unsurprisingly, Dharmendra Yadav's offer to compensate the girls' families for their loss met with no enthusiasm. The families wanted justice, not money, they said. In fact, what they really wanted was to see the boys who had tortured their daughters to death to be hanged from the very same mango tree. It was around here that Yadav had found his conversational skills faltering and left.

As the day grew warmer, things were starting to look up. Katara received its first helipad (freshly built and paid for, on a farmer's languishing mint crop), and then witnessed the glorious sight of Dalit leader Mayawati alighting from her chopper, followed by the efficient-in-blue Bahujan Voluntary Force. It was a rare event. Behenji rarely met with the media or visited sites of unrest during her tenure as UP chief minister, but the thorough trouncing in the recent election appeared to have transformed her into a gentler soul.

In a record 20 minutes spent with the victim's families (Congress leader Rahul Gandhi met them for ten minutes on Saturday, while Yadav barely lingered), Mayawati managed to convince the girl's parents to accept her “personal  compensation” of Rs 5 lakh each, and assured them that the police would harass them no further. At a press conference held on a dais erected specially for her, under the mango trees, the BSP leader then warned the UP police not to kowtow to the demands of their upper-caste masters. She also promised Katara that while she had ensured a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the matter, she would not hesitate to leave Delhi or Lucknow and sit on a dharna with them if they did not receive justice.

Following this bombastic declaration and Mayawati's exit into the sky,  the rest of the day felt anti-climactic. Former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar paid her condolences to the family, choosing to speak with the women of the family in a separate room, and not to address the villagers at all. Later in the day, following reports that the practice of open defecation made women vulnerable to sexual violence, the NGO Sulabh promised the villagers of Katara a toilet in every home.

Yet, there was no relief in sight. News reports claimed that two of the boys had confessed to rape and murder, but the SSP of Badaun said no such statement had been recorded yet. Everyone from Rahul Gandhi to Mayawati had assured the villagers that the CBI would get to the root of the matter, but the CBI claimed to have received no official notice on the case as of Sunday night.

Meanwhile more and more people from neighbouring villages have begun to assemble in Katara hoping that their own litany of grievances – sons and daughters who have gone missing and found dead near Yadav homes – would be heard under the mango tree. "Do you think Modi will come tomorrow? " Vidyavati, a 78-year-old woman asked her grandson as people began to clear out of the orchard. Abhinav had just arrived from Moradabad, drawn home as soon as he recognised his neighbourhood in that terrible photograph he saw on a friend's Facebook wall. "Of course he will," the young man said. "He has to.”
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