On September 14, 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman working in the fields was found naked with several injuries by her mother. Although the woman was given medical treatment, she succumbed to her injuries on September 29, 2020, not before allegedly giving a dying declaration accusing four people from the upper caste of raping her. But the events following her death, when the UP Police hurriedly cremated her body in the dead of night allegedly without her family’s permission, has triggered a huge controversy.
Conspiracy to create caste tensions:
The Uttar Pradesh state administration has hinted that the events following the woman’s death seems to be an “international conspiracy” to defame the government of Yogi Adityanath. The UP police have filed 19 FIRs (First Information Reports) under stringent laws including sedition and violation of COVID-19 protocols.
The Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has allegedly urged BJP party workers to expose people who are spinning conspiracies. According to the Indian Express, he has said that people “want to gain political mileage in the backdrop of riots, and that is why they are hatching new conspiracies every day”.
The UP police have also claimed that some groups of people wanted to trigger caste violence in the state, by circulating misleading and malicious information through social media. The main FIR lodged by the UP police has stated that a few anti-social elements have tried to offer ₹50 lakh to the victim’s family as a part of a “criminal conspiracy” to disturb peace in the state.
The UP government has suggested a court-monitored CBI probe into the alleged incident. The Chief Minister had ordered the suspension of the Hathras Superintendent of Police and three other officers for their negligence in the handling of the case. The CM has also ordered narco-analysis tests to be conducted on all those involved, which could include the victim’s family and the police officers. This shows that the government is keen to get to the bottom of the issue.
The hurried cremation of the victim in the dead of the night shows that the government and the police were trying to hide something. There have been allegations that the victim’s family were not allowed to participate in the cremation, leading to questions regarding the role of the administration in some sort of a cover-up.
The victim’s family is under immense pressure to toe the government’s line. A video shared by Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala shows the district magistrate of Hathras issuing veiled threats to the family. In the video, the DM is allegedly saying (in Hindi) that “half the media persons have left today, and the rest will leave tomorrow. Only we will remain with you after that. It is up to you if you want to change your statement or not.” Such blatant misuse of power is a cause of serious concern.
There seems to be an attempt to protect the upper caste men accused in the case by diluting the sections under which they have been charged. The additional director general of UP police, among others, has said that the victim had died of a neck injury and the forensic report “hasn’t found sperm in samples, making it clear that some people twisted the matter to stir caste-based tension.” The absence of sperm does not necessarily mean that rape did not happen. It only means that ejaculation did not occur, which does not rule out rape. By trying to remove rape from the equation, the administration is shielding the upper caste accused from getting a death penalty for their crime.
P.S. Is dying declaration of the Hathras victim legally admissible evidence? The Wire shines light on this issue here.