A special court in Hathras has convicted key accused Sandeep Sisodiya in the Hathras rape case and sentenced him to life imprisonment. The Special court judge, Trilok Pal Singh has acquitted Ravindra Singh (Ravi), Ram Singh (Ramu) and Luvkush Singh. However, Sandeep was convicted for section 304 which is culpable homicide not amounting to murder, while he was charged with murder (section 302).
On September 14, 2020, a 19-year-old girl was allegedly gang raped by four ‘upper castes’ men and had left her bleeding in the fields. She was found by her family and taken to the hospital in Aligarh. She was transferred to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi on September 28, 2020 and she succumbed the next day. After her death on September 29, 2020, her body was allegedly forcibly cremated by UP Police. On September 19, 2020 the victim gave her statement to the police where she named Sandeep and another person and she specifically mentioned she was attacked for resisting sexual advances. She even made a supplementary statement before the Magistrate and named Sandeep, Luvkush, Ravi and Ramu as assailant and accused them of sexual assault. Medical reports suggested use of force. A swab test to ascertain sexual assault was conducted on September 22, 2020 which was 8 days after the alleged gang rape. Naturally, chances of finding evidence of sexual assault (such as sperm) were next to impossible.
The accused were charged under sections 376 (Rape), 376A (causing death due to rape), 376D (gang rape), 302 (murder) as well as section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 [SC/ST Act].
Here is a low down on the significant incidents that occurred from the victim’s death up to the trial. The trial was marred by open threats to the witnesses in open court, despite CRPF protection to them.
On October 10, 2020 the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was handed over the case for investigation. Besides the alleged gang-rape case, the Uttar Pradesh government also seeks a probe into the FIR relating to the alleged criminal conspiracy to spread caste conflict, instigating violence, incidents of vicious propaganda by sections of media and political interests.
Victim’s dying declaration
On September 21, a video of the victim giving an account of the incident had gone viral on social media in which she said that she was raped by Sandeep and three other men, who ran away when they heard the mother coming. In the same video, the girl said Sandeep and Ravi had attempted rape against her previously but she somehow escaped, reported India Today.
Security for the witnesses
Citizens for Justice and Peace moved an Intervention Application (IA) in the Supreme Court (Crl. M.P. No. 102148 of 2020) pleading that the apex court monitor the investigation, protection be provided to the witnesses and a judicial inquiry by a retired Supreme Court judge on the circumstances that led to the hasty cremation of the body.
On October 27, 2020 a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian directed that Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel provide witness protection to the family of the victim as well as the other witnesses. The court also directed the Allahabad High Court to monitor the ongoing CBI probe into the case, as well as erase all mention of the victim’s identity and that of her family from its previous order in the case.
Attempts to disrupt the trial
On March 5, 2021, an advocate named Tarun Hari Sharma, who seemed to be under the influence of alcohol stormed into the courtroom and charged towards the victim’s family and their lawyers, “shouting and issuing threats”. At the same time, a large mob, including lawyers, entered the courtroom and surrounded the applicant and the complainant’s counsel in order to threaten and intimidate them. On being ordered to leave the courtroom, Tarun Sharma again threatened the applicant and his counsel. When the proceedings resumed, another Advocate namely Hari Sharma who, as alleged, is the father of Advocate Tarun Hari Sharma, entered the courtroom and started threatening the complainant’s counsel. In these circumstances, the Presiding Officer was forced to stop the proceedings again. The Presiding Judge observed the real and grave threat to the counsel and the applicant and “ordered the police personnel present in the courtroom to provide her (Seema Kushwaha) security cover within the court premises.
Accordingly, an affidavit was filed before the Allahabad High Court giving an account of the incident. The court then sought information about the incident from the presiding judge as well as the CRPF personnel who were providing security to the victim family as well as the witnesses, as per the order of the Supreme Court dated October 27, 2020 passed in Writ (Criminal) bearing No. 296 of 2020.
Court’s refusal to transfer case
On August 26, 2021, the Allahabad High Court refused to stay or transfer the ongoing criminal proceedings outside Hathras. This, despite the disruption of trial and open threats made to the victim family and the witnesses, during the trial proceedings!
The CBI had intended to file for transfer of the trial, however, no such application was filed by the agency.
The state justifies hurried cremation
The Allahabad High Court had noted in its order dated November 25, 2020 that the state government refused to transfer the District Magistrate, Hathras and attempted to justify the cremation of the victim in the night by narrating the facts and to contend that the District Magistrate did not commit any wrong in this regard. The government told the court that a political game is allegedly being played and the transfer of District Magistrate has been made a political issue by political parties with oblique motives so as to exert political pressure. On January 2, 2021, however, the DM was transferred by the UP government.
The post mortem report
The post-mortem report also revealed that she was strangulated and had also suffered severe injuries in her spine. The marks on the neck of the victim are consistent with attempted strangulation, the report says. UP ADG Prashant Kumar says that the forensic report confirms that victim wasn’t raped.
The forensic report stated that she was not sexually assaulted and that she eventually died of a heart attack. It was found that the membrane of her private part was torn but there was no mention of when it got torn.
When CBI took over the case, the AIIMS forensics medical team concluded that the possibility of sexual assault can’t be ruled out. The AIIMS report also mentioned the presence of multiple old healed tears in the hymen.
No assistance from government to victim family
On December 18, 2020 the counsel for the victim’s family asserted before the Allahabad High Court that the family had not received any assistance from the State except compensation. The state government, however, denied that the victim’s family had made any such demands.
In September 2021, Advocate Seema Kushwaha, representing the victim’s family, submitted to the court that even though a compensation of Rs. 25 lakhs have been provided to the family, other benefits and relief under Rule 12 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995, specifically sub-Rule (4) have not been extended to them. Kushwaha also brought to the court’s attention that the 1995 Rules lays down that a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe victim of gang rape and the family in case of murder, is eligible for pension of Rs. 1,000 per month, or employment to one member of the family of the deceased, or provision of agricultural land, a house, if necessary, by outright purchase. The rules further allow the provision of utensils, rice, wheat, dals, pulses, etc., for a period of three months.
The family, however, had not received such compensatory benefits.
In July 2022, the Allahabad High Court directed the state government to consider giving employment to one family member of the victim’s family within 3 months. There has been no update in this regard.
The chargesheet filed by the CBI flagged negligence of the local police during multiple stages of the investigation. The chargesheet said that the ‘police negligence clearly led to delay in examination of the victim for sexual assault as well as subsequent forensic examination’, reported India Today as it accessed the copy of the chargesheet.
“The UP Police persons present on 14th September at the police station did not act promptly as well as did not comply with the mandate of section 154 CRPC,” it said.