HATHRAS: CCTV cameras are being installed on a hut that nobody ever noticed until now. Because the people living there were forever faceless. It’s a strange sight. Bright lenses on a crumbling house made of mud and loose faded bricks. The metal detector that has been propped up looks out of place, awkward even, as one walks through it past buffaloes and dung, into a place that has just two doors and is open almost on every side.
Not much can get past the barricades screening Hathras village from the world of “outsiders”. No civilian cars, no two-wheelers and people in groups of no more than five – those are the rules.
It was around 10am on Wednesday that my photographer and I got to the main access road leading up to the village. But we were stopped at the barricade. “You can’t take two-wheelers in from today,” a cop posted there said. After a thorough scrutiny of IDs and a series of questions, they let me pass, with advice: “Walking is good for health.” It’s a 2-km trek in the sun from there.
Inside the village, a deathly silence prevails. There are no loitering people, no children, no chatter. Only cops. It’s a village virtually under siege. Some distance away, the lush green fields taper into the dusty brown of settlements. It’s where the victim’s family lives. It’s easy to find the house – follow the trail of boots on the ground. The place looks like a police outpost.
A convoy of five cars zooms past us. It’s the SIT, on its way out, possibly after another round of conversation with the family. It’s supposed to do that today (Wednesday). There are some 10-12 women cops posted nearby. “For security,” they say. There’s a lot that has been done for that here.
There are metal detectors at the entrance. It’s time for another round of ID checks by two women constables. And it’s more than just the regular questioning – each person entering must provide their name, phone number, address and organisation’s name in a register.
A man, not in uniform, lingers. There are many like him, cops in plainclothes, who have converged around the house. Every movement, that of the family and their visitors, is under their intense gaze.
When I had been there a few days ago, the cattle shed had four buffaloes. They are gone now. No one knows where. The family is having breakfast, rudely interrupted by our arrival. But the victim’s brother speaks to us without seeming hassled. The house is milling with cops. “It is for their safety,” police officers there repeated. When an elderly woman in the house needed to use the toilet, she had to wait until a woman constable could escort her.
The silence is suddenly broken. A car has somehow managed to get past the barricade and made it to the victim’s house. A confused commotion and angry warning later – “gaadi bandh kar doongi (I will shut your car down)” – the driver is allowed to enter the village as I leave.