BAGHPAT, Uttar Pradesh -- On Saturday, clouds hung low over Baghpat's sandstone courthouse building. The building wore a deserted look over the weekend but in one of its drafty corridors, Sehroon sat with her chin resting on her knees, a shawl covering her head and half of her face.
When this reporter asked to see her ears, Sehroon hesitated for a few seconds before peeling off her shawl. White gauze was wrapped around her earlobes. As Sehroon began to talk about her injuries, Janam, her mother cut her off and covered up her ears. "Don't talk to anyone," she instructed her sternly, even as she pulled down her daughter's collar to reveal a a long cut on the back of her neck. "That is where they pulled her chain," she said.
Sehroon, a slender figure in a pink salwaar kameez, had come to the courthouse to give her statement about the incident that had left her with serious injuries. She was accompanied by her mother Janam, a heavyset woman who wore mostly grey and did most of the talking.
The incident was reported as yet another barbaric crime perpetrated on a woman and the fact that it had occurred in Asara village, just 70 kilometres from the nation's capital had been underscored. But since Janam first spoke to the media, questions have arisen about her version of the events.
In fact, contrary to what she told the media, Sehroon's ears were not "cut off". While HuffPost India did not insist on examining the nature of Sehroon's wounds, the female constable accompanying her said that half an ear lobe was missing in one ear, and the other ear had been badly bruised.
"They attacked her after she returned from the latrine. They pinned her down and beat her," is all that Janam would say about the attack. She also refused to speak with a television-channel reporter who was present there. Asked about the kind of weapon used to "cut off" her daughter's ears, Janam said that she had no idea. But she did name the four people she said had attacked her daughter -- her nephew and neighbour, Mustakeem, his wife Nafeesa, their teenage son, and another man who lives with them.
Quite possibly, Janam no longer wanted to talk about the attempted rape to protect her daughter's reputation. Concealment of rape if the victim is a single women is not unusual in order to shield her 'honour' and not damage her marriage prospects.
Sehroon, however, is a married woman who had recently come to live with her mother in Asara village following a quarrel with her husband's family. And, Janam, according to some Asra residents, had decided to sue them for illegally demanding more dowry.
Another possibility is that Janam was under pressure to not talk about the rape attempt from the local constabulary, which in turn was either under pressure or had been bribed by powerful elements in the village. Janam had complained to the media about the police's lack of cooperation, saying that was the reason why she had reported the crime a couple of day after Sehroon had been attacked on 31 December. She has also spoken of powerful men in the village pressuring her to drop the case.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ajay Shankar Rai told HuffPost India that any intentional delay in investigations was being probed, and added that Janam had only filed an FIR (First Information Report) against one person, Mustakeem. "This was never a case of rape or attempt to rape," he said.
Asara residents said that Mustakeem, a manual labourer, neither had any influence with the police nor did he have the power to bring down the wrath of the village on his aunt and niece.
Wrapped in a white shawl and a cream-coloured skull cap, Mustakeem, a small man with a thick mustache, appeared for a few minutes in the courthouse's drafty corridor. He was in handcuffs and spoke to his family members who had surrounded him.
Police officials in Baghpat also pointed out that, contrary to her remarks to the media, Janam's complaint did not mention attempt to rape. Mustakeem has been charged under three sections of the Indian Penal Code -- Section 354, "assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty"; Section 324, "voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means"; and Section 323, "punishment for voluntarily causing hurt."
Bachoo Singh, the investigating officer, said that Janam had "lied" to the media. "There was a physical fight among the women in the family and her earrings were ripped out during the scuffle," he explained.
Nafeesa, Mustakeem's wife, told HuffPost India that she was the one who had pulled off Sehroon's earrings during a physical fight. "I was pinned down on the ground," she said. "I couldn't breathe. I grabbed at anything that I could to get free. That is when I pulled at the earring."
Over A Spinning Top
Only a brick lane separates Mustakeem and Janam's houses in Asara, a hamlet of about 25,000 Muslim residents, nestled amid the sugarcane fields of western Uttar Pradesh.
Mustakeem's wife and their neighbours said that fighting between the adults of the two families erupted after their children got into a squabble over a spinning top.
They said that Nafeesa's six year-old son was playing with a spinning top when his cousin, the son of Janam's elder son, who is around the same age, ran away with it. Then, they got into a scuffle.
The adults came out on the side of their respective children, with Mustakeem striking his son's cousin. The boy's mother, Chandani, Janam's daughter-in-law then slapped Mustakeem. Nafeesa then flew at Chandani. "If you see another woman slap your husband then what would you do. Would you just stand by," she said.
When Nafeesa started beating up Chandani, Sehroon came to the aid of her sister-in-law and then Janam joined in, two neighbours said. "I saw what happened. It was three women against one. She (Nafeesa) reached out and pulled at Sehroon's earrings," said Ashu, a neighbour, who runs a clothes shore. "That is how the bottom of ears came off," added Mehmood, a farmer and another neighbour.
Some Asara residents said that Janam was looking to reach a compromise with Mustakeem's family. Relatives had already arrived to make peace between the families, Mehmooda Chaudhary, the village head, told HuffPost India.
Dressed in a salwar kameez and sneakers, Mehmooda spoke dismissively about the entire episode. "They will reach a compromise. After all, they are from the same family," she said.
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