Uttar Pradesh Police forced the cremation of a 19-year-old Dalit woman from Hathras who died after being brutally raped by four men, the victim’s family said on Wednesday, triggering anger from locals and political rivals who accused the Yogi Adityanath government of trying to suppress the collection of additional forensic evidence and prevent the ballooning of protests.
District officials contended that they had consent from the woman’s family, but the manner in which the developments took place raised questions over the conduct of the administration and law enforcement. The woman succumbed to injuries in Delhi on Tuesday and the body was moved later that night to her home town 200km away. The cremation was carried out at 2.30am amid heavy deployment of police, who stopped locals and the media from approaching the site.
WATCH | Hathras victim’s kin say cops ‘forcibly’ cremated her body; protests break out
“The police have forcibly taken the body and my father along with them for cremation. When my father reached Hathras, he was immediately taken (to the crematorium) by the police,” the woman’s brother was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
“Police paid no heed to our request to have cremation during the daytime on Wednesday. Police were bent upon cremation at night and forcibly got it conducted,” alleged a villager.
Hathras district magistrate (DM) Praveen Kumar denied the charges. “The funeral was conducted with the due permission of the father. No one in the family, except a handful, have levelled such charges. Initially, family was not prepared to shift the victim to Delhi for better treatment but later agreed to it,” the DM added.
Members of Dalit groups and activists alleged that the early morning cremation was done to prevent any mobilisation or protests in the village. “The whole world is watching how the government and the police together cremated our sister in the absence of her family. I have been taken into custody and put under house arrest in Saharanpur; but we will continue to fight,” said Chandrasekhar Azad, chief of the Bhim Army that had led protests outside Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on Tuesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered in the main market area of Hathras in protest before police used tear gas and force to break up the agitation. Demonstrations also took place in Delhi and Kolkata, and a social activist filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a federal investigation into the case.
The victim was attacked and raped on September 14 in a field near her home in Hathras district. Details of the barbaric assault emerged last week, and the woman was shifted to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital where she battled for life till Tuesday.
Adityanath spoke to the woman’s father and set up a three-member special investigation team (SIT), and said a fast-track court will handle the case. The chief minister also announced ₹25 lakh in compensation to the victim’s family and a job to a family member.
In a tweet, the chief minister’s office said the Prime Minister spoke to Adityanath over the case. “Respected Prime Minister @narendramodi Ji has spoken on the Hathras incident and said that strict action should be taken against the culprits,” the post said.
The men arrested for the crime will now face charges under section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code, according to Hathras superintendent of police Vikrant Vir.
The family left Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi on Tuesday night amid heavy police deployment and reached the village in Hathrasafter arrival of the body of the woman, a family member told PTI.
Though they were present in the village, family members alleged that they were not allowed to see the body before the last rites. A video shot by locals shows the woman’s mother as saying: “I wanted my daughter to come home first. At least we could have applied ‘haldi’ on her body. This was her last goodbye. She won’t come back now.”
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said the hurried cremation was meant to “destroy evidence”.
Taking to Twitter, the former state chief minister said cremating the rape victim under the administration’s “pressure” without the “consent” of her family was against the culture of the state. “This act of destroying evidence is condemnable,” he wrote.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said Adityanath must resignation since he has “no moral right” to continue.
“After 15 days, he (Adityanath) has made a statement and what does he say that ‘PM called and I have constituted an SIT’. Were you waiting for the PM’s phone call, you could not do anything for 15 days, you did not provide her treatment, did not take her to a good hospital, she was brought to Delhi only day before yesterday,” the Congress general secretary said.
Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Swatantra Dev said the government acted quick and set up an SIT to probe the case in a time-bound manner. “Let me assure you that all those responsible for gruesome crime would be dealt with in a befitting manner,” he said.
Former Uttar Pradesh director general of police Prakash Singh said the teenager’s rape was a tragedy but how police reacted after her death on Tuesday was “a double tragedy”.
“The handling of her cremation should have been in a better way. The police are competent enough to deal with any possible law-and-order crisis in these situations. They should have taken the young woman’s family into confidence. Her family was already traumatised and should have been allowed to see the body or perform the final rites,” he said.
“The police action has only compounded the problem and mistrust. It is a failure of leadership and was badly handled. Who issued the orders for the midnight cremation? Was it issued by the director-general, inspector general, or a political figure, maybe someone at the ministerial level,” said Singh, who headed Uttar Pradesh Police between 1991 and 1993.