Shama Parveen was 28 years old and eight weeks pregnant when she died last week. A resident of Talheta village in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad district, she developed an early pregnancy complication – instead of growing in the womb, the foetus was growing in the fallopian tubes.

Around noon on October 21, Parveen called her husband Riyazuddin Saifi, who was at work in a factory in Noida 60 km away, complaining of abdominal pain. Since she had suffered the same condition during a pregnancy six years ago, resulting in an abortion, Saifi anxiously rushed home.

At the first hospital about 10 km away in Modinagar, the doctor told the couple that Parveen was bleeding internally, so Saifi rushed her to a second hospital to get an ultrasound. During the test, Parveen lost consciousness. At a third hospital, an hour later, Saifi was told Parveen was dead.

Parveen was buried in the graveyard at the edge of Talheta village at 2 pm on October 22.

At 6.30 the next morning, a neighbour, Premvati Prajapat, found the body lying outside the grave, five metres away and alerted the family. “I could not understand,” said Saifi. “I thought maybe an animal disturbed the grave and I went there to set it right.”

It wasn’t the work of an animal. Saifi found Parveen’s body had been exhumed from five feet under the earth, and the wooden planks over the grave thrown to one side. The loose robe covering her body was torn into two and left inside the pit. The shroud was removed and discarded on another side. The exhumed body had bloated up several hours after death. Marks in the sand showed how it had been dragged several metres. “Her hair was dishevelled, with sand in it,” Saifi recounted. “It looked like someone had dragged her body, holding her legs.”

In the police first information report, Saifi said he suspected that Parveen’s body may have been sexually assaulted or raped since it had been disrobed. However, the Chief Medical Officer for Ghaziabad district, Ajay Agarwal, said that no evidence of rape or sexual assault was found in the autopsy.

Attempt at polarisation?

Talheta is about 50 km from Dadri, where a Hindu mob lynched 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi to death on September 28. District and block panchayat polls are scheduled here on October 29. The attack on Parveen’s corpse led both officials and villagers to question if the motive was to provoke violence between the dominant Hindu and minority Muslim villagers and polarise voters in the elections. While Talheta is a Hindu-dominated village, Todi, Sarava, Saitpur, Solana, Uldhan village which are also set to vote are dominated by Muslims.

Superintendent of Police (Rural Area) Rakesh Pandey said no arrests have been made yet and that the investigation is going on. “We suspect it could be to communalise the atmosphere before the polls,” said Pandey. “It could also be related to some superstitious practices, we cannot say yet.” Station Officer (Bhojpur) Shavez Khan said two youths from the village were detained on October 23 and let go the same day.

Shama Parveen’s husband Riyazuddin Saifi (in white) at their home in Talheta.

There are around 10,000 people living in Talheta, more than 70% of whom are upper caste Tyagis. Besides them, there are Prajapati, Gujjar, Dalit, and Saini families. The 15-odd Muslim families, mostly farmers and carpenters, live amongst the Hindu households. The two communities in Talheta have always shared warm relations, the Hindu villagers said, and visited each other’s houses.

Several men and women expressed grief, shock and shame at the desecration of Parveen’s grave. Village pradhan Hariraj Tyagi, in his 70s, said the crime had marred the reputation of Talheta which hadn’t recorded any communal attacks since Independence. “The entire village is humiliated and ashamed at what was done to bahu’s body,” said Hariraj Tyagi. “Whoever has done this has done wrong. They deserve the strictest punishment.”

The pradhan promised to help officials in carrying out a fair investigation. He said he was present at the graveyard till the body was brought back after the post-mortem and buried a second time at 8 pm on October 23. His nephew Shekhar Tyagi accompanied Saifi’s brother Ayub to Bhojpur for the autopsy.

Many others shared the outrage felt by the pradhan. “We are hearing this was done because of the elections,” said Kavita Tyagi. “Who could have done this? No Tyagi could do it.”

Ramvati Prajapat, a neighbour of Saifi, said, “Parveen was a pyaari bahu, she spoke nicely to everybody. “What will anyone gain by doing this?”

Politics and divisions

Talheta is a part of the Modinagar assembly constituency which voted in Sudesh Sharma of the Rashtriya Lok Dal in 2012. Bagpat, the parliamentary constituency where it falls, is represented by Dr Satpal Sing of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the run-up to the local elections, every wall in the village was plastered with posters of the candidates announcing the support of political parties such as the BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party and RLD. Villagers said this was the first time candidates in the district and block panchayat elections had declared allegiance to political parties, as a show of strength.

Before the district and block panchayat elections.

Saifi’s sister-in-law Shanno, wife of his first cousin Salim, is contesting the block panchayat elections for the first time this year, with the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Saifi’s family says the polarising of votes in the forthcoming elections may have been a reason behind the attack on Parveen’s corpse. However, they ruled out any immediate political rivalry.

While the Hindu villagers described the village as free of any communal incidents in the past, the Muslim villagers recounted an incident from two years back of Hindu youths disrupting their evening prayers. “Some members of the jamaat were visiting from Todi, a nearby Muslim village, to read qalma with us,” recounted Babu Khan. “While we were praying, a few Hindu youth stood outside and chanted ‘Har Har Mahadev! Jai Bajrang Bali!’ But when we complained to the pradhan, it did not occur again.”

Saifi’s family said the administration was slipshod in its investigation. “We barricaded the area where Parveen’s body was lying,” said Ayub Saifi, Parveen’s brother-in-law. “We asked the police to collect fingerprints but this was not done till much later, during the autopsy.” Parveen’s sister-in-law said the police arrived without any women constables and asked the women members of her family to help cover and lift the body. The family has sought police protection, for fear of their safety in the village. Station Officer Shavez Khan said two policemen had been deputed to guard the grave at night.

“I loved my wife very much. What has happened is more than I can bear,” said Saifi. He has three children – a seven-year-old son, a five-year-old daughter, and the youngest, a ten-month-old infant.

Saifi expressed disappointment that many villagers thronged the graveyard on the day of the crime but few came to their house later to express support or pay condolences. “When the police detained two Hindu youth from the neighbourhood, some men immediately reached my house to ask me to tell the police to let the youth go,” said Saifi. “I refused to intervene.”

He said he will fight for justice. “It would have taken more than one person to do this, and it could not have been possible without the villagers’ support and involvement. It is the administration’s job now to resolve what happened and punish those who did this.”

Shama Parveen’s body was dragged as far as where Babu Khan (in white kurta) is standing.