(Story) The girl is back in her village Shahbazpur
The girl is back in her village Shahbazpur
These days, you can spot Shahbazpur village, some 60 km south of Banda town, by its khaki colour. About 40 policemen stand guard here, keeping an eye on visiting politicians and mediapersons, besides discussing mundane matters like whether they should cook methi or palak for lunch.
The police presence and endless rounds of visiting politicians and mediapersons have made entrepreneurs out of some villagers: five makeshift gutka and cigarette stalls have come up overnight and Ram Kishore has decided it's more profitable to set up his cart in the village itself instead of going out with it. There's a crowd around his cart where he makes tea, sells bread pakoras, beedis and gutka.
Inside one of the low huts in this village of 150 houses and about a thousand people, a young girl finishes a hurried meal before gearing up to recount her ordeal. Her father calls out to her, "Come out. Tumhare darshan ke liye koi aaya hai."
The girl walks towards a wooden bench where, over the last few days, she has routinely sat and told her story. Sent to Banda jail on December 15, she was kept there for a month on a complaint by BSP MLA Purushottam Naresh Dwivedi's son for stealing a cellphone and money. The girl, who had run away from the MLA's house two days earlier, alleges she was raped by the MLA and his men and the theft charges were just a cover-up.
"I was raped by the MLA, his people and his chaprasi. He wanted me to marry his chaprasi but I refused. Even the MLA's wife used to say she is fed up with him. One day, after I was raped, I ran away from his house but the MLA's men caught up with me the next day and accused me of theft. I later told jail authorities what had happened and they began forcing me to change my statement," she says.
After sustained media pressure and protests by Opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh, the girl was finally released on January 15 on the orders of the Allahabad High Court and entrusted to her father's care.
While perhaps it was the Opposition's combined campaign that got the girl out of prison, they are now going all out to win her loyalty. The Samajwadi Party was the first to jump into the fray. Their women's wing came visiting and gave the girl and her family over Rs 2 lakh�a photograph of them, sitting with the girl holding wads of cash, appeared prominently in local newspapers. Congress MLA Vivek Kumar Singh, who says he was instrumental in getting the girl out of prison, followed a couple of days later with a cheque of Rs 1 lakh.
Syed Imran Ali, district president of the Samajwadi Party in Banda says, "We are not playing politics here. We are not wooing the girl to join our party. Why should we? We have enough workers, why would we want a girl who knows nothing about politics?"
But he says he is wary of the BSP taking the girl into their fold and making her change her statement. "We have information that the BSP wants to take her to Behenji in Lucknow. We won't let that happen. We have our men all over the village, they keep an eye on who comes and goes."
Which is why, the police say, they have this elaborate bandobast in place when two securitymen would have been enough to protect her. "What will we do if some political people whisk her away," says a policeman.
The girl, meanwhile, says she is scared the MLA's men will come back for her. "I want my family to be given a house in Banda city. There will be better security for me there and, of course, there are better facilities in the city," she says. "And I would like to study further," says the 17-year-old who has studied till class II.
Her father Achche Lal agrees. "I was beaten up by the MLA's men. I am scared. Will they leave me alive," asks Achche Lal, who oscillates between fear of the past and optimism for the future. "I've kept all the money we have been given now in the bank. I am not going to fritter it away. I'll spend it on my daughter's wedding, on getting my mortgaged land back and maybe I'll buy some land," says Achche Lal, who mortgaged two of his three bighas for Rs 20,000 several years ago. "My wife died 12 years ago. I had to look after the children and could not go out to work." He supplements his income by selling gutka in the village, making about Rs 25 a day and by working as a labourer.
In these parts, where cash is scarce and opportunities to make money even scarcer, financial matters can be confusing. Achche Lal had reportedly asked the government for a compensation of Rs 50 lakh. "I didn't, some netas advised me to ask for that amount. But how much do you think I should have asked for?" he says.