Amidst the blur of crimes that are reported with sickening regularity from UP, one recent incident stood out for its sheer poignancy: Somvati, a 40-year old ASHA health worker and mother of three, raped by the brother-in-law of a woman under her care; the rape video later shared via WhatsApp to all villagers, culminating in the ASHA worker’s death. The story did make it to headlines at the time, but as often happens in most such cases, there was no follow-up to know what happened to those arrested or to the bereaved family left behind. But this is a story that needs to be told again and again because it teaches us so many things about contemporary society of Bharat. Hindupost visited Somvati’s family to understand their side of the story.
Smooth highways and lush green fields greet you as you approach Muzaffarnagar. Take the Roorkee bypass, and around half an hour’s driving brings you to Chappar – a small town bang on NH 58. A 2-3 km drive along narrow but pucca roads, cutting through fertile farms and orchards, and passing an under construction madrassa, brings you to the unremarkable village of Chhapra. It was here that we met with Sewa Ram, the elder brother of Somvati’s husband Suraj. He said he was the village chowkidar (guard), but even that was not enough to get a just hearing in this case. Somvati, a lady who gave medicine and took care of the entire village in her job as an ASHA worker, in the end could not save herself.
Somvati had been working as an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) for the last eight years. As the ASHA worker for the whole village, she also worked in the Muslim neighbourhood and visited their homes. She had three children, an older son who is about 16, a daughter who is about 13 and a younger son who is 9 years old. Her husband is a heart patient and only does odd jobs. The entire economic burden of her family was on Somvati and they were somehow eking out a hand to mouth existence. Her phone number was available among all families with pregnant women.
Around 3 months before her death, Somvati had gone to the house of a Muslim family to provide maternal care information to a woman with a newborn baby. At the end of that visit, Shahid, the young brother-in-law of the Muslim woman, pulled Somvati aside and asked her to have a physical relationship with him. Since that visit, Shahid started stalking her and pressurizing her to have a relationship with him. He followed her on roads and constantly called her up on her mobile. He even asked her to leave her family and marry him and made threats that ‘either she would become his or one of them would die’. Somvati kept resisting him.
Some time after this, Shahid and some other Muslims from the village gang-raped Somvati in a nearby turmeric field, and video recorded the deed. Shahid then started blackmailing her to keep quiet and accede to his demands for a physical relationship, otherwise he would make the video public. Somvati kept quiet about what had occurred due to shame and fear that the rape video would be made public.
A few days before her death, three different clips of the rape video started circulating via WhatsApp in the village. According to the villagers who have seen it, the video indicates use of force and resistance by Somvati, and presence of more than one man – they mentioned a foot placed on her chest that she was trying to dislodge, her salwar was torn, and her bag and slippers were scattered. Shahid was clearly visible in the video clips, and some other Muslims from the village as well.
The day after the video became known to her family, on 12 January 2016, Somvati took her sick elder son to a clinic in Purqazi, Muzaffarnagar. She then asked her son to return home with his medicine, saying that she would follow soon. A few hours later, her husband was informed by someone that Somvati was lying by the roadside. She was immediately rushed to hospital, but declared dead.
As Sewa Ram and the neighbours who had gathered were telling us the above sequence of events, Somvati’s husband Suraj arrived with a cart full of fodder for his cattle…his 8 year old son had also accompanied him on the grueling errand under the hot summer sun.
Suraj had a resigned look about him, and showed us his single-room brick house without electricity or a toilet. His two livestock (1 cow and 1 buffalo) were almost spilling over into the single, cramped room where the 4 members of the family lived. Just then the daughter came in. The two children (the elder son was not at home) were subdued and did not talk much. The family had relatives living next door, which provided some measure of support.
Suraj told us that out of the 5 perpetrators that he believed were involved in the rape of his wife, only 3 had been arrested. 2 of those arrested, Chand Mian and Salman, were already out on bail, with only the main perpetrator Shahid still in jail. He said that the SDM (Sub-divisional magistrate) was initially offering only Rs. 30,000 as compensation. But ASHA workers who gathered from adjoining districts blocked the highway in protest and demanded more compensation for the family. He said it was these protests, the efforts of Hindu activists from VHP, Bajrang Dal and the visit of BJP MP & Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan that finally resulted in the family getting Rs 5 lakh in compensation. But Suraj is still not sure whether his wife committed suicide or there was foul play involved.
Many of the gathered neighbours wondered why the UP administration adopts such double standards – while Somvati’s family got only Rs. 5 lakh in compensation despite her being the sole earning member, Mohammed Akhlaq’s family got Rs. 45 lakh and 4 flats in Noida, despite being much better off and with Akhlaq’s son already employed as a technician in the Indian Air Force.
Suraj did not get any Government job despite several trips to Government officers, while his elder son has been assured a job once he turns 18. Suraj told us that he was denied an LPG gas connection under the recently launched ‘Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana‘ as it is only given in the name of adult women, and his daughter was deemed too young. We advised him to get the connection in the name of some adult woman relative, but it is again surprising that the administration did not make an exemption in this case on compassionate grounds.
Law & Order in UP
Everybody assembled agreed that law & order in UP had deteriorated badly under the Akhilesh Yadav led Samajwadi Party (SP) Government. In the words of one villager, “A Muslim can get away even with murder, under the present SP Government“. The villagers were not happy with the attitude of police – they believe the police has either been bought off by Shahid’s family, who have powerful connections, or is under pressure to go slow in the case. Suraj said that he has received threatening phone calls from Shahid’s elder brother, a Delhi police constable, to drop the case.
In the villagers’ opinion, there is no justice for Hindus anywhere in UP at the moment. They felt that law & order was in better shape during the previous Mayawati BSP regime, as Muslims could hope to get away with crimes only in constituencies with Muslims MLAs. But the local BSP MLA from Purqazi, Anil Kumar, was not of much help in this case. His response to Somvati’s family was, “Go ask the Government in power to help”.
What happened to Somvati has shaken up the entire village, and created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Hindu families no longer feel safe in allowing their daughters to go to school etc by foot – they have started sending them by hired vehicles, which has placed an additional financial burden. It won’t be surprising if Hindu girls in the area gradually stop attending schools due to fear of sexual violence.
What will make things better?
While electing the right Government to power will help ameliorate the situation and improve basic law & order, still we can’t expect the police to prevent all crimes in dense cities and remote villages. What Hindu society is suffering from today is the breakdown of the cohesiveness that gave our communities their ‘one for all, and all for one’ spirit. Could Somvati have been alive today if she felt empowered to complain about her harassment by Shahid, to the village panchayat or any other local Hindu body, who could get her justice? Why aren’t such issues and their solutions discussed in temples anymore – once considered the nerve center of village social and cultural life?
Caste divisions, exacerbated by casteist political outfits like SP, RJD etc, and degradation of Hindu socio-religious traditions have played a part in weakening Hindu society. The rapidly changing demographic picture in UP is worrying, but abandoning ancestral homelands like happened in Kairana recently is not the answer – the time has come for Hindu society to unite and defend itself.
The bank account details of Somvati’s husband, Suraj, are provided below. Every little contribution will help the family, who have lost their pillar of strength and sole earning member. We request you to drop an email to [email protected] making any deposit to this bank account, so that we can verify with the family and ensure receipt of funds.
Bank Name: Punjab National Bank
IFSC Code: PUNB0058200
Savings Account no.: 0582000100230122
Account Holder Name: Suraja