The death and alleged forced cremation of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras last week triggered protests across the country and has raised serious questions on the Uttar Pradesh government’s handling of the case.
Opposition parties took to the streets to demand justice as well as the resignation of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The Yogi Adityanath government has come under increasing criticism after the woman’s family claimed harassment by police and local authorities, opposition leaders were roughed up while on their way to Hathras and police officials cited the forensic report to claim the woman was not raped.
Here’s how the Uttar Pradesh administration’s actions sought to undermine the family’s case:
1. ‘Conspiracy to defame govt’: The Uttar Pradesh Police claimed to have uncovered an “international plot” over the Hathras case to instigate riots along caste lines and defame the government, The Indian Express reported on Monday.
The police has also alleged a conspiracy in the case and filed 19 FIRs. Sedition, conspiracy and promoting religious hatred have been mentioned in the First Information Report filed in Hathras, according to NDTV. “There is a deep conspiracy in Hathras, we will investigate the truth,” senior police officer Prashant Kumar was quoted as saying in the report.
The UP government’s stubbornness in blaming external actors for the anger that arose over its mishandling of the case, along with the Adityanath government’s track record in targeting critics, seem to indicate that the state will deal with detractors with an iron hand.
On Tuesday, the government filed an affidavit on Supreme Court to allow a CBI investigation in the case. The government claimed there had been a “vicious propaganda” on social media, in certain sections of media and by political parties to deliberately mislead the public and create caste/communal disharmony in the state. It also defended the decision to cremate the woman’s body at night, saying it was done to avoid large-scale violence in the morning.
2. Denying rape: Citing the forensic report, which has been questioned by experts, the police has claimed that the woman was not raped.
ADG (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said the cause of her death was an injury to the neck and trauma resulting due to it. He said, “Even the woman in her statement to police did not mention about rape but talked about marpeet (beating) only.”
This claim goes against several reports which had pointed out that the woman, in her statement to the police on 22 September, said that four men raped her on 14 September when she had gone to collect firewood.
Even the woman’s family claimed that they filed a rape complaint on 17 September and the woman’s statement was officially recorded on 22 September.
Recounting her ordeal, the woman’s mother told Hindustan Times that until then, she didn’t even know the word, rape (in English). “Today, I am having to prove that my daughter was raped.”
The accused were arrested and charged with attempt to murder, which was changed to murder after her death, The Hindu reported. After the woman’s statement was recorded, the charges of gang-rape were added, the report said.
NDTV said that experts have questioned the forensic report because it is based on samples collected 11 days after the woman was allegedly raped.
The Chief Medical Officer of Aligarh Muslim University’s (AMU’s) Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College told The Indian Express that the FSL report “holds no value”.
In a bid to further the government’s narrative, BJP leaders on social media have also been sharing videos and messages claiming the woman wasn’t raped. Of this, the most harmful so far has been IT cell chief Amit Malviya’s video of the woman after the attack. Not does the video identify the woman, in violation of the law, it also misrepresents her words. No case has been registered against him yet.
3. Case against Azad, no action against men threatening him: On Sunday, around 500 men from dominant caste gathered at the house of BJP Leader Rajveer Singh Pehelwan to demand justice for the accused in the Hathras case. Pehelwan said he joined in his “personal capacity”, according to NDTV.
A video, tweeted by journalist Sadhika Tiwari, which showed some men from the dominant caste threateningChandrashekhar Azad, went viral just a day before a case was filed against the Bhim Army chief, for violating a ban on large gatherings after his Hathras visit.
4. Locking down Hathras, intimidating family: Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was imposed in the district last week and the district magistrate told PTI that it would be in place till 31 October. The borders of Hathras district were also sealed from 1 October to 3 October.
For a couple of days after protests broke out, the media and opposition leaders were not allowed into the village, with Prakash Kumar, Deputy SP, saying that the media was interfering with the probe of the SIT (Special Investigation Team) and the security personnel deployed at Hathras showed symptoms of Covid-19.
The woman’s family said they were not allowed to go outside or meet anyone, according to several reports.
The Wire’s Ismat Ara tweeted that she spoke to the woman’s brother secretly over the phone and he said: “We can’t go out, and nobody from outside can come in right now. All our work has come to a halt, women are not able to use the toilet or wash clothes...”
A boy, who said he was the woman’s cousin, told journalists at the police barricades last week that the administration had locked in the family and seized their mobile phones, according to Hindustan Times. “The police have occupied our house. They have even taken positions on the terrace,” he said.
A senior police officer, however, said that section 144 was clamped in the area, the report added.
The woman’s family has also alleged that they were being pressurised by the administration. A video of the Hathras District Magistrate went viral last week, where he can be seen telling the woman’s family, “these media people... some left today and tomorrow more will leave. Only we will be here with you.”
“It is up to you whether you want to change your statement or not. We can also change,” District MagistratePraveen Kumar Laxkar said, according to NDTV.
Opposition leaders were also prevented from meeting the family. Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi were detained last week on their way to Hathras. On Saturday, there were scuffles between the Congress workers and the Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida) Police at the DND toll plaza during which police personnel had baton charged the crowd.
5. Blaming the woman: BJP legislator from Bairia constituency Surendra Singh drew outrage after saying that if parents instil ‘sanskar’ in their daughters while raising them, incidents of rape can be avoided, according to PTI.
“It’s the duty of all mothers and fathers to imbibe good values in their daughters and bring them up in a cultured environment. I am a teacher and MLA. Such incidents (like rape) can be stopped only with ‘sanskar’, not with governance or or might.”
(With PTI inputs)