Less than a year ago, Karabhai Dayabhai Rathod, a 60-year-old dalit man, was a resident of Amrapur village, near Modasa Aravalli in Gujarat. He used to farm and rear cattle on a patch of land given by the Gujarat government. His son was studying in school and of the two unmarried daughters, one was learning to sew and the younger was pursuing higher studies.
However, their lives changed on the intervening night of December 31, 2019, and January 1, 2020, when the youngest daughter went missing. Five days later, her body was found hanging from a tree about 2 kilometres from their home. A month after the incident, the family had to flee the village fearing for their lives, leaving behind their home, unharvested crop and cattle that starved to death.
“I want justice,” said Karabhai.
He, along with his wife, son and elder daughter, now live in the house of an acquaintance in the outskirts of Sayra village, Aravalli. There are about 10 dalit families who live in the area.
“They say she was not murdered. They say she was not raped. I don’t believe it,” he said, adding, “I want justice for my daughter, that’s all I want.”
Two days after searching for his daughter, Karabhai had gone to the Modasa Police Station, where then Inspector NK Rabari not only refused to file a complaint but told him that his daughter had eloped and shall be back with a marriage certificate.
On January 5, 2020, she was found dead hanging from a tree near Sayra village. A huge protest erupted with dalits pouring in from neighbouring districts and Modasa Police was forced to file an FIR on January 8.
In the FIR, complainant Karabhai named four accused- Bimal Bharwad, Darshan Bharwad, Satish Bharwad and Jigar Bharwad, all of them belonging to Maldhari or Rabari (pastoral) community for raping and murdering his 19-year-old daughter.
However, after two post mortem reports and about two months of ‘investigation’ later, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) declared that the victim was neither raped nor murdered.
Family of the girl from Amrapur village who was found hanging from a tree at a distance of two kilometre from her home.
The SIT led by DIG Gautam Parmar stated that the 19-year-old girl had committed suicide. It also stated that the prime accused Bimal Bharwad and the girl were in a relationship which went awry after the girl came to know that he was already married. Parmar said in a press conference in Ahmedabad in March this year, “A reconstruction of the crime confirmed that it was a suicide and not murder.”
The SIT found no role of Satish Bharwad, Jigar Bharwad and Darshan Bharwad in the case. Bimal Bharwad was booked under sections of Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1089 and under IPC Section 306 for abetment to suicide, section 201 for destruction of evidence and under section 504 for insulting the victim with obscenity over phone calls.
“The day post mortem report was released and it suggested that there was nothing to suggest rape, Karabhai and his family had to leave Amrapur,” a local dalit activist told NewsClick, on condition of anonymity.
“We suggested that he should leave his home and settle in Sayra with other dalit families. Amrapur is a village dominated by people of Bharwad community where Karabhai’s family was the only dalit household. Besides, the residence of Bimal Bharwad is about 2 kilometres from Karabhai’s house and his father is a loan shark with close links with many BJP MLAs. In fact, Karabhai was even offered money to take back his complaint,” he added.
Also read: Gujarat: SIT Says No Rape, No Murder in Modasa Dalit Rape Case
“She was the only person who was pursuing higher education in our family. She was ambitious, she had enrolled herself in some computer course apart from doing graduation from a college in Modasa. She was our brightest child,” said Manguben, mother of the 19-year-old girl.
“We left everything we had, so that we can fight for justice. We are living in someone else’s home and have no support. There has been no earning since we left our home. We are all alone with no one to talk to and all this struggle is for our daughter,” she added.
“This is the price of being a dalit in this state,” a friend of Karabhai, who has been helping the family since the incident, told NewsClick.
‘Raped After Being Asked to Work Overtime’
This is not a single incident. Around 350 kilometres away in Vadli village of Amreli district, another dalit family has faced with a similar fate.
Laljibhai’s daughter used to work as an agrarian labourer for a Darbar (Kshatriya) family of the village. On December 25, 2016, the then 21-year-old girl was asked to work overtime and not allowed to leave along with other labourers at 6 PM. At around midnight, Hiteshbhai Khumar and his friends dropped the girl at her home.
“They were all drunk when they dropped the victim home. Laljibhai got angry at the fact that they had not allowed his daughter to come back home on time. They brutally thrashed him and left. When he got up and saw his daughter, he realised she had been raped,” advocate Navchetan Parmar, who has been helping the family, told NewsClick.
“The incident took a toll on the victim’s mental health and she stopped speaking. Even after four years, she rarely speaks,” added Parmar.
“There are two parts of the case, Ranipbhai Dhakra is accused of caste atrocity for thrashing Laljibhai and Hiteshbhai Khumar is accused of both rape and caste-based atrocity,” Jagrutiben Joshi, one of the lawyers fighting the case, said.
Laljibhai now lives in Babra village in Amreli in a cluster of dalit households that over the years has become a rural ghetto of dalit families who had to migrate due to caste-related atrocities.
“We had 10 bigha of land and house that belonged to our joined family of four brothers. We also had some cattle. We had to leave everything,” he said.
Also read: Gujarat: Dalit Man Attacked by His Brother’s Murderer
“After the FIR was filed, the family of the accused began to threaten us. They threatened to thrash and kill me or my family members unless I withdrew my complaint. Besides, the uncle of the accused is a wealthy businessman and local BJP leader. We decided we had to leave the village for our safety and to pursue the case,” he added.
Laljibhai and his family have also given a memorandum to the District Collector stating the risk to their lives and asking for a migrant status. “We camped in front of the Collectors’ office and protested for seven months. It took seven months for the Collector of Amreli to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, sanction us as migrants and allot a land,” he said.
He further said, “These four years have been very difficult. I don’t keep well and cannot work anymore. We have had to sustain on daily wages that stopped during the lockdown. But we will continue to pursue the case.”
“Dalit women are subjected to sexual harassment on a regular basis in rural Gujarat, especially the ones who work. It is the dependency of the dalits on upper caste for employment that makes them very vulnerable. Dalit women do not speak out or report on being molested or eve teased by upper caste men at work. Men of upper caste consider sexually harassing dalit women a norm or rather an act of caste pride. It is only the extreme cases that are reported,” said Manjula Pradeep, an Ahmedabad-based dalit rights activist, who has been working for more than 15 years in Gujarat.
“Even after the case is reported, the struggle to get justice is hard and long. There is fear of the accused as in most cases the accused are not only socially powerful as they are from upper castes but are economically powerful too. The victim is under immense social pressure and considers the sexual violence to be her fault owing to the conditioning and upbringing in a patriarchal set up. Many a times, the family is socially boycotted even by dalit community. Victims of caste violence get more support from the community than family of a dalit girl who has been raped because of the stigma,” she added.
Also read: Dalit RTI Activist Thrashed by ‘Upper Caste Men’ in Botad, Gujarat