On 14th September 2020, a Dalit girl was gang-raped by four Upper Caste men in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh. According to the victim’s mother, the girl along with her had gone to the fields to cut grass to feed the cattle. The fields were owned by Upper Caste Thakurs but the Dalits (unjustly considered lower caste) had been cutting and gathering grass for years now. Since the mother had hearing issues, she did not hear her daughter being dragged away and assaulted. When she found her, the victim was lying naked with her tongue protruding from her mouth. She was bleeding from her mouth, her neck, and her vagina.
The Indian Express reported, “the girl’s tongue was cut off and she has sustained severe injuries on her spinal cord and her neck.
The initial medical report by the hospital has confirmed strangulation and assault. Doctors said further examination is being conducted to confirm rape.
Based on her brother’s complaint, earlier the police had booked a man identified as Sandeep for attempt to murder and under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.”
Her brother then along with her mother drove her to a police station. There she laid groaning in the sun on a stone platform.
The victim’s brother alleged, “Nobody listened to us there. The police kept saying ‘Just take her from here. She’s being dramatic and lying here. Do you want to trap us?”
The mother said that she did not mention rape at the time because she thought that her daughter would not be able to live with dignity for the rest of her life. “But when she herself said it later, we told the police”, she further stated.
Later the victim’s family took her to a local hospital in an ambulance. She was then shifted to Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Aligarh, where a week later she woke up and said that she was raped. In her follow-up statements on September 21st and 22nd, she named Luvkush Thakur, Ramu Thakur, Sandeep Thakur, and Ravi Thakur as her assaulters. The police then arrested them. It should be noted that it was after six days of the incident that the victim was shifted into ICU.
The JNMC doctor recommended her to AIIMS, but they were not able to admit her there due to the unavailability of beds.
She was then shifted to Safdarjung Medical Hospital in Delhi for better treatment on September 28th where she breathed her last.
Why Caste is an important factor in this case?
The Victim’s brother recalled that Six months before the incident, the Thakur men who assaulted the victim had threatened to kill her family.
NewsLaundary reported, “Asha never mentioned this to her family until after the attack. When they asked why she had never told them about it earlier, Asha said she feared they would kill her brother and father.”
“I really wish my daughter had said something to me before,” her mother said, tearfully. “For the past six months, whenever we would ask her to step out for something she would make excuses by saying she was not well. Only now we know why.”
While pointing at the home of the Thakurs, the mother said, “That’s their house. Their sons did this to our daughter.”
She then turned to a mound of cow dung near a narrow drain, and said, “They dump all their garbage and dirt on our side because we are Dalit.”
The victim’s brother-in-law, who works in Delhi and rushed to the village after hearing about the incident, said, “People here still practice untouchability. Going past our households lowers their dignity. Our grandparents still stand up if one of them passes by. You will never find a Thakur or Brahmin entering our houses and if they need to tell us something, they send a messenger. Our ancestors used to clean their houses every day in exchange for some bread. Today, the Thakurs are angry because we do not clean their houses or give them the respect they think they deserve.”
The village Chandapa is dominated by Thakurs and Brahmins. According to the Indian Express out of almost 600 families in the region, half are Thakurs, a hundred are Brahmins, and only about 15 families are Dalit.
Her brother and cousins narrated how even now when they go to a shop in the area, the shopkeeper sprinkles water on the money they hand over. “If by mistake one of us touches a packet of biscuits, we have to buy it and cannot return it,” said the brother.
Another of the victim’s brother – a trainee lab technician in Delhi – said that Dalits were not even allowed inside the village temple.
Unlike her brothers, the victim never finished school.
“The village school is far from home and it doesn’t feel safe to send our girls there,” a cousin of hers explained. “Also the teaching is so bad and we Balmikis are expected to do all the cleaning in the school as well. In this village, most girls drop out by class 8 and boys tend to stop studying after class 10. And within our community, why should we go to a place where we are discriminated against so much? They cannot say one sentence to us without using a cuss word. They will always refer to our elders as tum but our elders have to call even their babies aap.”
How did Politicians, Government Officials, and Policemen React?
Bhim Army Chief Chandrasekhar Azad met the victim at the Aligarh hospital after evading the police on the evening of September 27.
Hathras Congress leader, Shyoraj Jivan Valmiki claimed that he had visited the victim thrice and was “shocked” at how she was being treated.
“Why is the hospital not confirming or denying rape? If she belonged to an upper caste, people would have been out with candles. The doctors and the police are working hand in hand. Why are atrocities against the Dalits still being suppressed?” he asked.
BSP leader, and ex-CM of UP, Mayawati, called the incident “shameful and blasphemous” and asked the Adityanath government to pay attention.
On 28th September, the victim’s body was being taken from the hospital to her home.
When the body arrived in an ambulance, a video went viral where policemen were seen asking the family to cremate her at night. “There have been mistakes from your side too”, they were heard saying to the victim’s family.
Soon after, videos went viral of the victim’s body being cremated by policemen and the area being barricaded. The victim’s family alleged that they were locked in their homes and the cremation happened without their consent.
The victim’s mother wanted to take her body home for rituals before the last rites, but her request was denied.
“Police had formed a human chain to stop the protesting crowds, the family and the media from getting close to the cremation spot,” a local journalist, Abhisekh Mathur said.
When reporters asked the policemen what they were doing, they refused to reply and only said, “These are the DM’s orders.”
When Chandrasekhar Azad arrived on the scene, he was immediately arrested by the police along with the victim’s father.
The very next day the DM stated that the cremation was performed by the consent of the victim’s family.
What seemed curious in this case was the fact that if the cremation was done by the consent of the victim’s family, then why did the police use petrol while burning the victim’s body?
The victim’s brother said, “They took the body away without our permission, without the permission of my parents and cremated her. We didn’t even get to see her one last time.”
He further alleged that the policemen beat up his family members when they protested to see the body.
After public outrage and protests, the UP CM, Yogi Adityanath formed a 3 member SIT team to probe into the case and ordered them to submit a report within 7 days.
On October 1st, the postmortem report of the victim was issued by the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi. The report, however, does not mention rape since there were no traces of semen. According to “The Rape Law” issued after the Nirbhaya Rape Case, traces of semen are not required to tell whether the victim was raped or not. It mentions penetration as rape too. The postmortem was done two weeks after the incident, and of course, there were minimal chances of finding traces of semen in the victim’s body.
However, the victim was bleeding from her vagina and said that she was raped and named her rapists before dying.
Yet, the UP government hired a PR Agency to push the narrative that the “Hathras girl was not raped.”
On October 1st itself, the whole village was sealed by the UP Police, and Section 144 was imposed. When opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, and Derek O’ Brien protested against this and were on the way to meet the Hathras family, they were shoved, pushed, and allegedly lathi-charged by the UP Police.
No journalists, media houses, or politicians were allowed to meet the victim’s family.
A video surfaced of the DM allegedly harassing the victim’s family. He can be heard saying, “Half the media is gone now. The other half will be gone in 2-3 days. We’ll still be standing here. It’s upon you whether you want to change your statement or not.”
While the media had no luck in contacting the family as the area was sealed and the phones of the victim’s family were switched off, on 3rd October, the victim’s 10-year-old cousin managed to escape through the fields emerged at 9 am. The media surrounded him and he gave the following statement :
“All phones have been taken away and switched off. We are not allowed to go anywhere. My aunt (the victim’s mother) wants to talk to the media. Our house has been surrounded by police on all sides. They are everywhere – on the terrace, outside the house, on the streets. We are being threatened. An officer with the administration kicked my uncle (the victim’s father) yesterday.”
When he was asked by reporters that how he managed to slip past such heavy security, he said, “I came across the fields.”
India Today reported, “Just as he finished speaking, two cops who were posted there noticed the clamour and seeing him gave chase. The boy ran back the way he had come. When police stationed there were asked by journalists why they were treating him that way, they said no one was supposed to “move around” like that. Over the day, all attempts to go past the barricade met physical, often violent, resistance from the police.
Hathras additional SP refuted what the boy had said: ‘There is no truth to the allegations leveled by the victim’s family.”
What is the current situation in Hathras?
After two days of the area being sealed the victim’s family was finally allowed to meet reporters. Political leaders are still not permitted to enter the village.
The victim’s mother initially said no to a NARCO test, since she didn’t know what it was. Now the family says that they’re willing to go through a NARCO test only if any other family (of murder and rape victim) has gone through that.
According to OpIndia, the victim’s mother said no to a CBI probe and demanded a team monitored by a Supreme Court judge to conduct the investigation.
“No, we don’t want the CBI to investigate the case. We want a team under the aegis of a Supreme Court judge to probe the matter,” the mother said.
However, despite the victim’s kin saying no, UP CM Yogi Adityanath has ordered a CBI probe into the case.
The Times Of India reported, “The decision was announced by the Chief Minister’s Office minutes after Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wound up their visit to the home of the victim’s family.”
What is the Judiciary’s Take on This Matter?
The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court took suo moto on 2nd October and issued notices to the UP government.
“The incidents which took place after the death of the victim on 29.09.2020 leading up to her cremation, as alleged, have shocked our conscience, therefore, we are taking suo moto cognizance of the same.” -Lucknow Bench Allahabad HC
“The matter is of immense public importance and public interest as it involves allegation of high handedness by the State Authorities resulting in violation of the basic human and fundamental rights not only of the deceased victim but also of her family members.
As it is, the deceased victim was treated with extreme brutality by the perpetrators of the crime and what is alleged to have happened thereafter, if true, amounts to perpetuating the misery of the family and rubbing salt in their wounds… We are inclined to examine as to whether there has been gross violation of the fundamental rights of the deceased victim and the family members of the victim; whether the State Authorities have acted oppressively high handedly and illegally to violate such rights,” the HC further said in its statement.
It also requested The Times Of India, The Indian Express, The Hindustan Times, Amar Ujala News, India TV, Aaj Tak, NDTV, and Times Now, to produce the material and content based on which they have reported the cremation of the victim.
According to Live Law, The Court has listed the matter on October 12th and directed the Home Secretary, DGP, Additional DGP, The DM of Hathras, and the SP of Hathras to appear before the court on that day.
Unfortunately, since the SP of Hathras, along with four other police officials have been suspended, hence the court hearing will be attended by whoever will take the SP’s place.
Was there any support for the alleged Rapists/Murderers?
The Savrana Parishad had earlier come out in support of the four Savarna (Or Upper Caste) accused. They said, “Innocents are being framed.”
According to a Jagran report, “the National Campaigner of the National Savarna Council (Savarna Parishad), Pankaj Dhavaraya, along with many others, reached the SP office on Monday and submitted a memorandum in defence of the accused, saying that the girl’s family is implicating innocent people.
The report further adds that after their imprisonment, there is resentment among the people of the regional upper-caste society and their honour has been hurt. The group has also demanded an SIT investigation into the case.”
Now, the people from the Thakur community also held a protest to support the accused near the victim’s village. They allege that the case has been falsified and demand a fair inquiry. 12 villages held panchayats in support of the accused and demanded NARCO test and CBI probe.
What is appalling is the fact that, as demanded by the panchayats and the Savarna Parishad, an SIT probe, a NARCO test, and a CBI inquiry was ordered.
But when the victim’s mother asked for a team overlooked by an SC judge to investigate the matter, her request was not paid heed to.
Is the case of Hathras unique?
Caste-based violence has been regularly documented in India and this is not the first case. The caste network provides the perpetrators with impunity. Only some cases are able to draw attention and make headlines when the majority of cases are never reported, or withdrawn under the pressure of the casteist society and law.
According to the 2016 National Crimes Bureau Data, of all crimes committed against the members of the Scheduled Caste, the highest is against Dalit women.
According to NCRB data, in 2019, India registered 4,05,861 cases of crimes against women, including 87 rapes every day. Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 59,853 cases.
Uttar Pradesh also recorded 7,920 attacks on Dalit women between 2014-2018 – the highest in the country. These included 3.421 cases of assault, 2,410 rapes, and 1870 kidnappings. Please be mindful of the fact that these were the only cases reported.
– Aanandita Singh
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