Funeral or destruction of evidence: Why did the UP police light Hathras victim’s pyre?

Footage of cops surrounding the burning pyre shows how the victim's immediate family was shut out of the last rites 

hathras gang rape

Why were there so many policemen surrounding a lone burning pyre? Why were the women of the victim’s family blocking the ambulance attempting to take the body away from her home? All those haunting scenes have been captured by brave television journalists who reached in time to record, and report the events that ufolded after the Dalit rape victim’s body was brough back to Hathras, and cremated at 2.30 A.M, even as her family alleged they were kept away from performing the last rites of their daughter.

Yet the Uttar Pradesh government is yet to take cognisance of that footage, still freely available on every news channel online, and order a probe into the police exsesses at Hathras, as alleged by the victim’s family, and the wider Dalit community in India. According to a report by The Telegraph, a news channel has also aired footage that shows “uniformed and plainclothes preparing a pyre over a body wrapped in white cloth, pouring the contents of a jerry can and setting it alight purportedly at Hathras in Uttar Pradesh.”

The family of the Dalit teenager who allged she was gangraped by upper caste men, and later succumbed to the brutal injuries she had sustained, had alleged that her body was cremated by the police on September 30. The girl’s father had said he could “recognise all the individuals in the footage as local policemen he had seen during visits to the police station and interactions since the death of his daughter,” reported the Telegraph. 

It is known that the Uttar Pradesh Police have denied that they had forcibly burnt the body of the Hathras victim, and the state administration has believed it. State Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Praveen Kumar said he did “not recognise” the video. He accused the family of the Hathras girl of changing their statement “for reasons best known to them”, stated the Telegraph, as well as other media. The police maintained that “Whatever was done there was done with the consent of the family”  Kumar added, “some of the family members were present at the cremation site and all the rituals were followed.”

The Telegraph quotes Narendra Pratap, the reporter who gathered the clips, and he said, “I stand by the story. It is true that the girl’s body was burnt by the policemen.” As the news report states it is just a matter of establishing the veracity of the footage and the identity of the body, and that will be the biggest proof that the girl’s own family was shut out of the last rites. 

These allegations by the family were made long ago, and they have not changed their stand. The allegations were also supported by the Dalit community, and others in the village who spoke to poltical leaders, and journalists who visited the grieving family in the past two weeks.

These allegations of hasty cremation allegedly by the police, and the excesses the family says they were, and continue to be subjected to in various ways has yet to move the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. The CM is yet to visit the family, or call them to his office for a meeting and personally hear their grievances, even though all major readers have already driven down to Hathras to meet them.

The Uttar Pradesh Home Department had left that matter vague in an affidavit to the Supreme Court earlier this week, merely referring to “family members” without identifying them by relation, reported the Telegraph. “The extraordinary circumstances and sequence of unlawful incidents… forced the district administration to take the extraordinary step of cremating the victim at night in presence of family members who agreed to attend to avoid further violence,” stated the UP government’s affidavit. The state government has said on record that the “cremation of the victim was performed with full rites and customs.” However the girl’s grieving mother has made on camera statements that they were denied the basic farewell rituals such as anointing their daughter with turmeric, before her final journey. The Dalit family alleged that they were not even allowed to bring the girl’s body home for one last time. They have alleged the police did not allow them to even attend leave alone conduct her funeral.

As the Telegraph pointed out, if the authenticity of the latest clips is upheld, it would also raise questions whether emptying the contents of a jerry can meets the description of “rites and customs”. This latest footage, which appeared to have been shot on a mobile phone, shows men in plainclothes and in uniform placing logs, planks and dried dung on a body wrapped in a white cloth and setting the mound on fire by pouring the contents of a white container, added the report.

Prem Prakash Meena, sub divisional magistrate of Hathras district, had told reporters on September 30 that “the family members of the victim were present during the cremation. We have made many videos of their presence during the last rites of the victim.”

An uncle of the girl had said he had been forcibly taken by the police to the site of the burning to register the “token presence of a family member.” On September 30 night, television news channels had shown footage of the alleged burning of the body from a distance. The clips aired on Friday are far more clear, stated the news report.

The father of the victim told reporters in Hathras on Friday, “We are not surprised to see the video and can identify every policeman in it, even if they are in plainclothes. We knew what exactly happened that day as some villagers were present there. The policemen brought my daughter’s body from Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi in an ambulance. The ambulance was parked in front of our house for a few minutes. Then some policemen locked the door of our house from outside and took the body to an agricultural field and burnt her hurriedly by using cow dung and wood collected from Rajput households in the village.”

The father of the girl said no tradition or ritual was followed, and he was quoted by news reports, “The video exposes the Yogi Adityanath government’s false affidavit in the Supreme Court that (the cremation) was done according to our wishes and because there was apprehension of violence. The government has lied to the Supreme Court.”



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