The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rape and murder cover-up charge on village, police

Patna, Nov. 28: An 18-year-old was allegedly raped and set on fire when she was alone at home in a Samastipur village, and the murder was passed off as suicide.

Since October 24, when the teenager was assaulted and killed, her family has been running from pillar to post for justice. The chief judicial magistrate, Kiran Shankar, directed superintendent of police Meghnath Ram on Tuesday to reopen the case and submit a report.

The order came on the day deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani made a strong case for death sentence to rapists, but women’s organisations argued that it was more important to ensure that the existing laws were implemented.

“One of the reasons why we have come here is because of perfunctory investigation by the local police. There were serious grounds for suspicion, which the police failed to explain. Lalita died in hospital with 100 per cent burns. If you kill the victim and she is not there to tell her story, it is easy to dismiss a gruesome crime as a petty one. But the police should have the guts to probe deeper, ” said Damodar Rai, the victim’s father, who works as a labourer at Calcutta port, said in his petition.

According to the petition, on the evening of October 24, Lalita Kumari was found in her house at Mathurapur Digharuha village with 100 per cent burns. She was taken to hospital, where she died late in the night.

Lalita, who grew up at Kidderpore in Calcutta where her parents still live, had gone to stay in the village with her elder sister Sama Devi only a couple of months earlier. Their parents wanted the teenager to get accustomed to life in a Bihar village as they were planning her marriage.

Sama had gone to visit relatives in Vaishali, leaving her younger sister alone at home. When she reached the hospital late at night, villagers got her to sign a paper, abused her and forced her to leave. Lalita was hurriedly cremated even before her parents could arrive.

The petition alleged that three men from the village — Rambabu Rai, Sukkan Rai and Satyanarayan Rai — had raped Lalita and had burnt her alive to suppress evidence of their crime.

Lalita’s family said neighbours, who heard her screams and took her to hospital, had told them that she named the three men. But they were too scared to come forward, fearing the wrath of other villagers.

The village has been trying to suppress the rape and murder, they said. “The villagers had ostracised her after she was seen with a village youth, Ajay Rai, in a compromising position two days before she died,” Sama said. The panchayat met and decided to ask her to leave the village because she had “brought it a bad name”.

The villagers did not even allow Damodar Rai, struggling for justice for his daughter, to enter Mathurapur Digharua for almost a month after the incident.

Police went by the villagers’ version and put down the death as a suicide. Investigating officer Manoj Kumar, of Tajpur police station, said the first FIR had recorded the incident as suicide and blamed Ajay and some unnamed accused for instigating it. It said that Ajay, under pressure from villagers who had not taken kindly to the love affair, had provoked Lalita to kill herself.

Samastipur superintendent Meghnath Rai said: “Our preliminary information was that it was a suicide. So we recorded a case against Ajay .In the light of what we hear now, a fresh probe would be done.”

The petitioners’ counsel has raised several questions that the police will have to find answers to:

Why did the villagers chase the victim’s sister out of the hospital'

Why was the statement of the victim not recorded before she became unconscious'

Why did the villagers not let her family enter the village'

Where is Ajay'

Lalita’s family has sought security as they fear reprisal from both the local policemen and the villagers.

The court has asked the local police to provide security.

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