The grieving family of the Dalit teenager who succumbed to grievous injuries sustained when she was raped, have told the Allahabad High Court that her funeral that was conducted by the local police the same night, was performed without the family’s consent. The 19-year-old had alleged in her dying declaration that she was raped and attacked by four ‘upper-caste’ men on September 14 in Hathras. She was taken to a hospital in Aligarh, and when she regained consciousness on September 22 she recorded a statement before a magistrate, following which sections of rape were added to the FIR. The teenager was transferred to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, where she died on September 29, her body was taken to Hathras the same night and cremated before 3 A.M on September 30. Her family was seen protesting in front of the ambulance carrying her body, pleading that they be allowed to take her home for final rituals as was their tradition.
The family alleged they were not allowed to see her body, let alone carry out traditional funeral rituals. The family has been targeted and officials were seen on video almost threatening them of dire consequences and telling them they were at fault. On top of that, the administration has failed to take action against various ‘upper-caste’ congregations that have been holding meetings and panchayats to support the accused, and intimidate the family and the Dalit community in Hathras.
The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the case, especially the hurried cremation, and directed senior officials of the state government and police to be present at the hearing on October 12. According to NDTV the HC has raised questions about financial and class divide in this case. While the district administration and police claimed that the cremation was done the same night “in view of the law and order situation”, the court has questioned if the case would have been treated differently had the girl, instead of belonging to a poor family, came from a rich one.
“The court asked the District Magistrate – ‘What if it was a girl from a rich family? Would you have cremated her the same way,” Seema Kushwaha, the counsel for the woman’s family, told NDTV. District Magistrate Praveen Kumar, who was among the officials summoned by the court, had accepted responsibility for the post-midnight cremation. The HC took on on October 1, had said the case was of “immense public importance” as it involves allegations of “high-handedness by the state authorities, resulting in violation of basic human and fundamental rights not only of the deceased victim but also her family members”, reported NDTV.
According to India Today, Seema Kushwaha, said the Bench of Justices Pankaj Mithal and Rajan Roy expressed displeasure over the administration’s conduct in the matter and ADG (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar was asked ‘if you had a daughter, would you allow the funeral to take place without seeing her body?” He was “speechless and unable to answer any questions,” she said. The HC bench had summoned UP Additional Chief Secretary, DGP, Hathras DM and SP, apart from the ADG (Law and Order). The victim’s family who also appeared before the court to record their statement, have asked the court to transfer the case out of the state as they ‘did not have faith in the local authorities’. They also requested security cover till the end of the judicial procedure and asked that reports of CBI be kept confidential.
Advocate Seema Kushwaha, was quoted by the media stating that the security of the family was a major concern because they had been receiving threats from various groups supporting the accused. The victim’s family told the HC said there was a heavy police presence in the village when the victim was cremated by the authorities and thus there was no question of the law and order situation getting out of control that day. Meanwhile, the Hathras District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar in his statement, told the court that they had “inputs about a huge law and order problem the next morning, following which they took the decision to carry out the cremation. The District Magistrate denied having sought any direction from Lucknow or got any guidance from Lucknow in the decision regarding the cremation. He told the court that the decision was taken (by officials) locally, including him,” stated news reports.
Talking to the media after the hearing, Seema Kushwaha, who had also represented Nirbhaya’s family, said that the police robbed the victim’s family of basic human rights, guaranteed to everyone equally – regardless of their caste or status. “During last rights, we sprinkle Ganga water on the body of the deceased. They burnt her with kerosene, robbing her of basic human rights,” Seema Kushwaha said. The next hearing has been fixed for November 2.