CHITRAKOOT: Far from the heat and dust of these elections, a group of youngsters in this small town are busy watching some pictures on their mobile phones, giggling as they do so. Once done, they forward the photos to friends.
“I know her house. You want to see it?” asks Babloo, a 22-year-old in the group.
This is Chitrakoot, a backward town in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, famous for its temples of Lord Ram and Sita. For the past one month, it has been a town of whispers. The innuendo is about the ‘character’ of the woman and her three daughters who approached the Supreme Court and won a directive to the UP police to register a case of rape against a minister in the Akhilesh Yadav cabinet, who is also the Samajwadi Party candidate in the Amethi election.
Gayatri Prajapati and his friends now stand accused of the repeated gang-rape of the woman and the attempted gang-rape of a 16-year-old daughter. But the police have not been able to arrest him so far as he is “not to be seen” despite the fact that he was seen campaigning in Amethi. Two days ago, the UP police went to Prajapati's residence but could not find him.
While Gayatri Prajapati goes about winning the confidence of his constituents, innumerable photographs of the victim and her three daughters are being circulated on WhatsApp.
The 16-year-old daughter, the eldest, is undergoing treatment in AIIMS in Delhi, numb with fear, paranoid that her assailants will come back to get her and her mother.
In Chitrakoot, the family’s identity and whereabouts are common knowledge. Ever since the Supreme Court intervened on their behalf, curious townspeople go to see their house. “I have her phone number,'' boasts Mataprasad, a 45-year-old dailywager.
The family’s lawyer, Supreme Court advocate Mehmood Pracha, says it could only be Gayatri Prajapati and his henchmen who are behind the circulation of the photographs. “By maligning the image of the victim, they think she will buckle under pressure and withdraw the case. This has been traumatic for the family. I am going to put these facts to the Supreme Court,'' said Mehmood Pracha, who is based in Delhi.
The advocate says the UP police claim that Prajapati is ''not to be seen'' is laughable. “Can a minister go absconding? He has a security detail, he is a well-known man who was campaigning in the election. How can he not be seen,'' wonders Mehmood Pracha.
You hear in Chitrakoot that Prajapati's arrest is imminent but the lawyer is not sure. “The way the police are behaving, it appears they are waiting for the election results (March 11),'' he says.
According to Mehmood, the victim first met Prajapati at a public function a couple of years ago. Thereafter, some SP workers encouraged her to join the Samajwadi Party and took her to Lucknow to meet Prajapati. Thereafter, she was called to Lucknow a couple of times. “During one such meeting, she was given tea laced with intoxicants after which she was raped by the minister,'' says Mehmood Pracha.
The advocate says a video was made and she began to be blackmailed by at least six people including Prajapati's friends and staff. ''When she pleaded not to make the videos public, the minister once again called her on July 16 last year, his birthday, and said he would hand over the videos to her. Accompanied by her daughter, when she went and the minister and his men tried to rape her again and also attempted to gang-rape her daughter,'' says Mehmood, citing the victim’s affidavit to the Supreme Court.
Thereafter, Mehmood says, she tried to contact chief minister Akhilesh Yadav but was not able to. She met the DGP, who got her statement recorded but no FIR was registered.