On August 13, 2004, between 2:30PM and 3:00PM, the residents of Nagpur’s Kasturba Nagar slum in Maharashtra, India, gathered outside Courtroom Number 7 of the Nagpur District Court where local goon Akku Yadav was scheduled to appear for a bail hearing.
Yadav arrived as scheduled, but never made it out of the courtroom alive.
Murder in a Courtroom, Season 3 of the Indian Predator docuseries, produced by VICE Studios and currently streaming on Netflix, traces the slow burn that led to Yadav’s lynching.
The true crime series written and directed by Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni also serves as a testimony of sorts of the accounts of the residents of Kasturba Nagar who survived the terrifying reign of the gangster, serial rapist, and murderer born Bharat Kalicharan Yadav. Resha Raut, the sister of Asha Bhagat, a woman he brutally killed and mutilated, also features in the series and is among the many who witnessed Yadav’s brutality first-hand.
“Aapko batate hue humein rona aata hai (Telling you [what happened] makes me cry),” she told VICE in Hindi over the phone. “We lived in fear every waking moment. Children stopped going to school. Like many women I, too, stopped going out of the house altogether. No marriage proposals for women from Kasturba Nagar ever got accepted. There were no relatives coming from or going to anyone’s house or any celebrations taking place. All because of Akku. He would beat the living daylights out of people, just because he could. He raped three girls and even their mother. No one could stop him.”
Caste likely had a role to play in the ease with which Yadav, an upper-caste man, was able to commit crimes against the residents of Kasturba Nagar who were mostly from the Dalit community, with few to no consequences. In the first episode of the three-part series, Gendlal Srivastava, one of Yadav’s friends, says that he repented killing his friend Tiwari because he had killed someone who was from an upper caste. This view is bolstered by Cynthia Stephen, gender, development and anti-caste researcher, who asks, “Is there a non-Dalit woman this man ever raped?” Rajesh Khandekar, another one of Yadav’s friends, attempts to counter this view later in the series by claiming that Yadav didn’t know much about caste.
Whether or not Yadav genuinely regretted killed Tiwari we might never know, but kill him he did and that too in the middle of the road, in broad daylight, allegedly for befriending Raut’s sister, Asha Bhagat, who ran a successful alcohol business that was catered to by locals including criminals. Raut, who was a witness to the crime, said, “[Tiwari and Yadav] had a fight. [Yadav returned] with a knife and stabbed Tiwari in front of everyone, without fear of any consequences. I stood there stunned. I had never witnessed a murder before, and it took me a while to register that he had just killed him.”
Vilas Bhande, a lawyer and co-accused in the Akku Yadav murder case, says in the series that Yadav saw Bhagat as a competitor. Bhagat was also one of the only women who stood up to Yadav and confronted him about his crimes, including his extorting money from the locals – most of whom were daily-wage labourers and domestic workers.
“Asha tai (elder sister) helped and worked for the poor and the disadvantaged. She stood up for everyone who was tortured and beaten by Akku. So he started seeing her as a thorn in his side that he needed to get rid of,” said Raut. “We used to tell her not to engage with him, but she used to say, ‘If my death is destined in his hands, I'll die. But what about all the people he is looting and the women he is raping? Can’t we unite to kill him?’”
After a failed attempt by Bhagat to kill Yadav, Yadav’s determination to “get her out of the way [only] grew even stronger,” said Raut. Yadav extracted revenge for the attempt on his life by killing Bhagat at night on June 8, in 1999, in front of her then 14-year-old daughter Megha, Raut’s niece.
“He slit her throat, cut off her ears, her breasts, and stole her jewellery… And he didn’t stop there. A few weeks later, he returned with his gang and plundered everything in the house, and turned it into their adda (hangout),” she added.
Fearing threats to her life as the sole eye witness in her mother’s murder, Megha moved to Manav Nagar, a neighbouring slum, with her aunt. “One day, Akku came in with four to five people and barged into our house. We managed to hide Megha behind a big drum,” Raut recalls in the series, adding that Yadav noticed that an extra lunch was served and demanded to know who it was for and where Megha was.
“We lived in constant fear, as he kept a close watch and kept visiting our house to warn her not to testify against him.” Raut added that despite making it to court, Megha was too traumatised to testify against Yadav. This resulted in him being sentenced to just 16 months in jail, because of the lack of eyewitness testimony.
The turning point came in 2004 when Yadav attempted to barge into the house of resident and hotel-management student Usha Narayane, after she helped a woman he had raped file a case against him in the police station. Yadav and a few of his men surrounded Narayane’s home, post midnight, and demanded she let them in. Narayane refused and instead responded by dragging the cooking-gas cylinder to the door, opened the valve, and threatened to light a match and set herself and anyone else in close proximity on fire.
Yadav and his gang retreated.
The incident helped embolden the people of Kasturba Nagar against Yadav. In the days following the incident, Narayane also went door to door in the attempt to get them to band together and to bring about Yadav’s downfall. “Hadh ke upar paani hone ke baad, logon ne ekayak hi thaan liya use marne ka (At the time, people realised that the water had spilled over the edge and they instantaneously planned to murder him),” said Raut.
“Everyone left their livelihoods, stopped going to work, and contributed every penny they had saved for food; everyone was determined to bring him down,” said Narayane in the series.
Raut recalled over our call: “Everyone had just one thing on their mind: to see the end of Akku Yadav. There was no fear anymore, only frustration and determination. Finally, on the morning of August 13, 2004, the revenge sought by many, was converted into a reality.”
Raut is referring to the historic killing of Yadav in the courtroom by a mob comprising mostly women, who went armed with knives, stones, broken glass, and chilli powder. The reenactment of the court scene portrays Yadav swaggering into the courtroom blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits him. Within minutes, the mob moves towards him as one – unleashing its rage onto the man who’d terrorised them and their loved ones for years, from his first gang rape in 1991 up until his death in 2004.
The circumstances of Yadav’s death have been interpreted as a rising up against not just the criminal, but also a judicial system that repeatedly fails the underprivileged.
Four women were initially arrested, including one who was pregnant, post which a crowd, mostly of their mothers and other older women, surrounded Sadar police station to protest the arrest. The police eventually gave in to the pressure. “They made us an offer,” said Bhande in the series. “Give us any five old women.”
One of the “five old women” to surrender was Raut’s mother, Anjanabai Borkar, who was among the women who lynched Yadav and who felt that “they should be arrested instead of their daughters,” according to V. Chandra, trade union and women’s activist, who also features in the series.
“My mother was one of the five co-accused and jailed in the murder of Akku Yadav. As soon as she got bail, she was welcomed with sweets and garlands,” said Raut. Borkar was in custody in Sadar Police Station in Nagpur from August 13 to 18, and was sent to the Nagpur Central Jail from where she was released within three hours as defence lawyers moved bail applications before the district judge who ordered their release on personal bond amidst protests by the residents of Kasturba Nagar.
“Just as people gather to see movie stars, a crowd had assembled to see these women,” said lawyer and co-accused Bhande, in the series. Borkar, referred to the killing as the necessary “slaying of a demon” in an NDTV report.
“He wasn’t here in the slum so we caught him in the court and killed him there,” said Borkar in the report, adding, “He used to tell me, ‘If you don’t give me money today, I will strip you naked.’ I have a lot of pain, my daughter, her family, all gone. What do I do alone?”
Ten years later, in 2014, the case against the women, including Borkar, was dismissed on account of inconclusive evidence, shared Nidhi Salian, creative producer and head of research on the show.
In one of the closing scenes, Raut asks, “What is the truth? Just outrage, violence, murders, rapes? That’s it? But the experience? What we lived through? The hardships we faced year after year? So much suffering each day… That cannot be told; it’s beyond words.”
With inputs from Nidhi Salian.