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Families in shock over rape charge

Jorhat, Dec. 4: “My brother is the youngest in the family — almost 25 years younger to me and born after five sisters —and is much loved by all of us. Always happy and cheerful, he was called apsara (heavenly being) by his teachers because of his goodness,” said a distraught Daluram Gam, elder brother of Prasanna, booked yesterday for allegedly raping an IT professional from Bangalore in a Kerala resort along with Lakhinath Panging.

Both Prasanna and Lakhinath have a family of nine and are the youngest among their siblings. Prasanna’s family comprises two brothers, five sisters and their parents while Lakhinath has seven elder brothers and their mother. He lost his father several years ago.

Both hail from Lassan Baligaon, a remote village in Majuli island, the seat of Vaishnavite culture in Assam. Lakhinath’s mother stays close to Prasanna’s house.

Both the families, are “shattered” by the news of their arrest. Daluram told The Telegraph over phone that his parents had not stopped crying ever since they had heard the news.

“That very night (November 28) I had spoken to Prasanna around 8 and asked him to collect his pay for the month and return home so that he could work with me on the small patch of land we have. Who would have known that such a shocking incident would occur in that place that night and that my brother would be implicated? I refuse to accept that the two boys are capable of doing such a thing,” he said.

Abject poverty had forced Prasanna, who had appeared for Class XII exam two years ago, to go to Kerala in search of greener pastures.

Lakhinath, said Daluram, is his nephew. “He comes from my village. He had lost his father several years ago. His mother somehow manages to get by. Most of his brothers left home after getting married. Lakhinath and his fifth brother, K.K. Bora Panging, are in Kerala. Their mother lives with her seventh son. It was Bora who informed us of their arrest yesterday,” he added.

Lassan Baligaon falls under Jengrai police station on the northeastern tip of Majuli, bordering Lakhimpur district on the north bank of the Brahmaputra. Distances here are covered by both river and road. One has to travel two hours on a ferry from Neematighat, where the ferry docks at Jorhat, the nearest town, across the Brahmaputra and then travel another two hours inland by a private vehicle that one needs to hire as there is no public transport there.

Around 200 youths from this area have gone to Kerala and other parts of India in search of jobs. “Due to my circumstances, I also cannot send any money to my brother. My entire crop was washed away in last year’s floods. I am still recovering from the losses. I don’t have the money to bail them out. Bora will have to help. He works in Paragon Industries in Kerala,” Daluram said.

Be it their small thatched homes, tiny pieces of land or meagre possessions, it’s all at the mercy of the river.

The two boys’ arrest, however, isn’t the area’s first tryst with infamy. Close by is Shikari Gaon where village folk have targeted and tortured scores of people as “witches and sorcerers”. The pattern is known in this state: A person falls ill or dies and a self-styled holy man will blame it on some family or a person, calling them witches. It’s a problem the government has failed to address.

Thirty-five people were forced to undergo a “purification” ritual in the village in October to purify them of their “demonic powers”. The “revelation” came through a young boy “possessed” by a “deity”.

With attention of both the administration and the media then turning to the area, the local people banned journalists and photographers from coming back to their village, threatening them with bodily harm if they did so.

At the moment, though, the Gams and the Pangings are desperately at a loss about what to do for their boys arrested in distant Kerala for a heinous crime.