In a case exposing religious, caste and class fault lines in Indian society, the police in Basti of Uttar Pradesh arrested two brothers and a cousin of an 18-year-old Muslim girl on 29 August for the murder of a Dalit youth who was allegedly courting her.
The girl had died on 26 August in the night. Police exhumed her body on 28 August after they recovered the body of the 19-year-old Hindu youth, who used to live in the same village and had gone missing that night.
Police suspected that the two deaths were the fallout of “honour” killing.
Police arrested the Muslim men after getting the autopsy report of the Dalit youth, which confirmed that he had died of asphyxia caused by strangulation.
"The postmortem report of the 19-year-old Dalit youth stated that he died of throttling… No other injury mark except the strangulation mark was found on the youth’s body,” Inspector General (Basti Range) Ram Krishna Bhardwaj said.
“The cause of the girl’s death could not be ascertained in the autopsy. There was no injury mark on her body. Her viscera has been preserved and will be sent to a laboratory for examination,” Bhardwaj said.
Police suspect that the girl died from consuming a poisonous substance. “This will be corroborated after receiving the viscera report,” said a police officer.
Based on a complaint lodged by the Dalit youth’s family, police had booked the girl’s brothers and her cousin on charges of murder and destruction of evidence.
“The three have confessed to killing the youth… During questioning, they told us that they killed the Dalit youth after they found him with their sister in the house. After killing him, they dragged his body to a nearby field,” Additional Superintendent of Police (Basti) Deependra Nath Chaudhary said.
During preliminary investigation, police scanned the dead youth’s cellphone and found he was in regular touch with the Muslim girl.
The Muslim girl belongs to an affluent family while the Hindu youth worked as a tractor driver.
On 27 August, the Hindu victim’s elder brother had said that the 19-year-old used to regularly visit the house of the girl’s Muslim family and drove the tractor owned by her brother. On 26 August in the evening, the youth left home after receiving a call from the girl’s brothers.
“When he did not return till late in the evening, we went to the girl’s house to ask about him. But the girl’s brothers told us that they had no information about him. We then started to look for him. On early 27 August in the morning, we got to know through villagers that the girl had died and the family were burying her in the village. We suspected foul play and started looking for our brother near their house. Around 100 metres from the girl’s brother’s house, we found my brother’s body and immediately informed the police,” the Dalit youth’s brother said.
Police have also invoked the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the three accused.
A heavy police force has been deployed in the village dominated by Hindus.