On the morning of August 11, Savita, 42, was getting ready to leave for work when she received a phone call from her lawyer.
He told her the Uttar Pradesh police had arrested two men for repeatedly raping Savita nearly 30 years ago. Savita had been 12 at the time.
“I felt relief, exhaustion, sadness, joy, anger – all at once,” Savita told Newslaundry. “I want to see both of them once and give them one slap. They ruined my life.”
As a result of the rapes, Savita had delivered a child when she was 13 years old. It was a DNA test that matched the child to one of the accused which led the police to finally make the arrests. The two men – Mohammad Razi, 48, and Naqi Hasan, 51 – are brothers.
“Her son was our biggest evidence,” said S Anand, Shahjahanpur’s senior superintendent of police.
It was also her son who, years after the rapes, convinced Savita to file a police complaint. This is their story.
In 1994, Savita had just learned how to ride a bicycle.
She was 12 years old and a student of Class 7, living with her sister and brother–in-law in Shahjahanpur district. Her father was in the army while her mother, four other sisters, and two brothers lived in a village in Hardoi.
Savita would ride her cycle in their neighbourhood every evening after school. Twenty-eight years later, she remembers how a group of men would watch, sometimes standing in front of her cycle and laughing when she fell. “Dekho, mohalla mein nayi chidiyaan aayi hai,” they would say. See, there’s a new bird in the area.
“I didn’t even know what this meant back then,” Savita said, “but even now it remains etched in my memory.”
Among this group were Razi and Hasan, then aged 20 and 22.
One summer afternoon, Savita was alone at home. Her sister worked as a teacher while her brother-in-law was a government employee. Razi and Hasan allegedly jumped over the wall and entered her house, she said.
“One of them gagged me, the other tied my legs. Then they raped me for nearly 45 minutes,” Savita said. “After they were done, they untied me and told me that if I told anyone, they would kill my sister.”
This happened again and again when she was alone at home, she said, over the next six months. Savita told no one.
A few months after the rapes began, she got her first period. “I didn’t know what it was,” she said. “I thought the blood was because of what the men were doing to me.”
But after her first period, she never bled. She began feeling unwell, unable to eat or sleep. She dropped out of school a few months later. When she began “fainting repeatedly”, her sister took her to a hospital.
The doctor said she was pregnant.
“Everyone was shocked,” Savita said. “That’s when I confessed everything to my sister.”
The 12-year-old was three months’ pregnant and the doctor said she “might not survive” an abortion. He also urged them to file a police case, but they didn’t. Instead, Savita’s sister and brother-in-law went to Razi and Hasan’s parents that evening and told them what had happened.
“Their father refused to believe us,” Savita said.
Later that night, Razi and Hasan allegedly came to their home with a country pistol. “They beat up my sister and brother-in-law,” she said. “They threatened to kill us all and burn down our house if we told anyone.”
Scared, the three of them packed their bags and left the following day for Rampur, 160 km away. Savita’s sister never told their parents what had happened until six months later, when childbirth was imminent.
“They were embarrassed,” Savita recalled. “My father was angry I had ruined his reputation. My mother said it’s best I don’t go back to our village as people had started to find out about my pregnancy.”
Savita was only 13 when she went into labour. All she remembers now is that it was a cold winter day in Rampur, she was in a lot of pain, and she was in labour for nearly 24 hours.
Savita never saw the child. “I didn’t know if it was dead or alive. I didn’t know if it was a boy or girl,” she said. “My sister told me now I must forget about this and move on, or else no one would marry me. I couldn’t ask one question about my child.”
All she knew was that the child was given away.
Savita’s sister and brother-in-law separated soon after. “He was ashamed and said his family didn’t want to be associated with ours,” Savita said. “My sister’s life was also ruined because of what happened to me.”
Marriage, divorce and a meeting
Savita and her sister continued living in Rampur. She had returned to school, graduating from Class 10 in 1998. In 2000, as soon as she turned 18, her parents and other siblings “married her off”. Her new husband refused to allow her to continue her studies.
In 2002, Savita had a baby boy. It was a happy time in her life. “I had been given a new life,” she said. “My child was born and we had a few happy years as a family.”
But in 2006, her husband found out about her past through someone from Savita’s village where her parents lived.
“He was angry,” she said. “He said, ‘Tomorrow, if your first son comes asking for property, I will be embarrassed in society. What will people say?’”
Within months, he told Savita to leave with their four-year-old son. “He could not look me in the eye,” she said. “He didn’t want to eat the food I made. He didn’t want to touch me.”
Savita and her son left Rampur for Lucknow. She rented an apartment and began taking up odd jobs – first as a salesgirl in a mall, then learning to sew and starting a tailoring business. When that didn’t work out, she worked in a bookstore.
Then, one morning in 2007, she opened her front door and found a 13-year-old boy standing at her doorstep.
“I asked him who he was. He said he’s my son,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I started weeping. I never thought I would see my son again.”
That’s how Savita was reunited with Raju.
Raju’s journey back to his mother was fraught with complications. He had been handed over to a relative in Savita’s village after he was born.
A few years later, his foster parents had a biological child and began “treating him badly”, Savita said. Everyone in the village knew his antecedents and by the time he was in Class 5, other children “started to make fun of him and bully him”.
Savita and her husband separated in 2006. Raju was 13 years old at the time. When the news of his biological mother’s divorce trickled back to the village, his foster parents put him on a bus to Lucknow, telling him to go live with her.
Savita was 25 when Raju arrived in Lucknow. He moved in with her and her son. Alongside her work, Savita also returned to school, graduating from Class 12 in 2010, followed by an undergraduate degree in politics.
“I used to work during the day, look after the kids in the evening, make them do their homework, put them to sleep, and study at night,” she said. “I knew education was the only thing that would save my life.”
As Raju grew older, he repeatedly asked Savita about his father. “I used to hit him and tell him to stop,” she said. “But he would keep saying he needs a surname, he needs to know. One day, he threatened to commit suicide if I didn’t tell him. So I finally sat him down and explained what happened.”
This was in 2019. Savita said Raju urged his mother to file a police complaint.
“He told me, ‘What if you were not the only girl? Why are we suffering for no fault of ours?’” Savita said. “I was scared of what our relatives would say. But he said, ‘Which relative has given us half a kilo of rice so far? Everyone has turned their back on you. So what are you scared of now?’”
She added, “He was right.”
In July 2020, Savita and Raju took a bus to Shahjahanpur. She walked into the Sadar Bazaar police station and told her story.
Finally, an FIR
The police at Sadar Bazaar refused to file an FIR.
“I did not have the names of the men, or photos, or their contact information,” Savita said. “The police told me the case is too old and has no leads.”
So, Savita met with advocate Mohammad Mukhtar Khan, who took the case to the court of a chief judicial magistrate in August 2020. Under section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which empowers a magistrate to order an investigation, the court demanded that the police file an FIR.
On March 5, 2021, 27 years after the crime, an FIR was registered against two unknown men for raping Savita.
Advocate Khan told Newslaundry the court had deliberated on whether charges should be added under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
“Eventually, we did not add POCSO charges because in 1994, there was no POCSO Act,” he said.
The police investigation then began. Inspector Mangal Singh, who was station in-charge at the time, began looking for the two accused.
“I went back to the village but then men had moved from there,” he said. “No one knew where they were. It was a Muslim colony and there, no one speaks to Hindu policemen. I had to work with the help of police mitrs [informants].”
Savita was also trying to find a lead. She worked with inspector Singh and their efforts bore fruit. About 25 days after the FIR was filed, they discovered the brothers, Razi and Hasan, were in Shahjahanpur running a business.
But the men, who were also working as truck drivers, were “constantly on the move, so it was tough to track them”, said Shahjahanpur SSP S Anand.
Meanwhile, Savita visited multiple mechanic shops in Shahjahanpur, hoping to learn the men’s whereabouts. One of the mechanics gave her Razi’s phone number. She called him and introduced herself.
“He immediately recognised me and said ‘oh, you’re still alive’,” she said. “I told him I am and that it’s his turn to die now. Then I cut the call. He called me back a few times but I refused to pick up.”
Savita passed on the phone number to the police. Inspector Singh then contacted Razi and, on the pretext of an accident case, told Razi to come to the police station.
Despite some initial noncooperation, Razi and Hasan eventually presented themselves at the police station. But the police now struggled to confirm that they were, in fact, the accused.
“In a case so old, evidence collection is the biggest challenge,” Anand said.
But there was Raju.
In June 2021, the police collected DNA samples from Raju and from the two men. In April 2022, a test result revealed that Naqi Hasan’s DNA matched Raju’s – they were father and son.
The case was strengthened, and the two brothers “went absconding”, Anand said. They were finally tracked down in Hyderabad. Razi was arrested on August 3 and Hasan on August 10.
Razi’s confession statement said he had “never imagined” the case would be opened after all these years. Hasan also “confessed to the crime”, Anand said.