Hathras: The Uttar Pradesh Police triggered a fresh row in the Hathras ‘gang rape’ and assault case late Tuesday after it forcibly cremated the body of the 20-year-old Dalit victim in her village without the presence of her family members.
The woman had been allegedly gang-raped and assaulted by four men, all belonging upper castes, on 14 September. She died early Tuesday at Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi. Her body reached the Bool Garhi village of Hathras district at around 1 am on the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday.
The police chose to cremate her came in a bid to “maintain the law and order situation” after the family pushed for taking her body home before conducting last rites.
The victim’s family told ThePrint that the last rites can only be performed after sunrise according to Hindu customs.
However, the police and the district authorities didn’t want to wait until sunrise anticipating the matter would be “blown out of proportion” and “politicised”.
Speaking to reporters in the village before the cremation, Joint Magistrate Prem Prakash Meena said, “We want to get the cremation done before 5 am, after that the area will be jammed with activists and people of different political parties.”
The body of the woman had taken 18 hours to reach the village. District officials said the ambulance had left the national capital after 9.30 pm even though the post mortem was done by evening.
“The delay was caused by the Chadrashekhar Azad-led Bhim Army’s protest at the hospital. Hence it took so many hours for the body to reach the village,” Hathras District Magistrate (DM) Praveen Kumar Lakshakar told ThePrint.
Chaos in village
After the victim’s body reached the remote village, Bool Garhi witnessed chaos as a tussle broke out between the district authorities and the victim’s relatives over the body.
The joint magistrate, the DM, and police personnel from Chandpa thana and the crime branch initially tried to reroute the ambulance straight to the cremation ground instead of stopping at the woman’s house, where nearly 120 people were waiting for the body.
As the authorities sought to move ahead for the cremation, the woman’s elder brother, his wife and her elder sister blocked the ambulance’s way in protest against the body being taken directly for funeral.
Joint Magistrate Meena then spoke to the angry crowd that had gathered. The woman’s father urged the people to calm down, following which the ambulance was redirected to their native home.
However, the family alleged, the district authorities offered them only 20 minutes to finish the rituals, which they didn’t agree to, calling it “harassment” and torture”.
“We will use light force to clear the area so that the body can be taken for last rites,” Meena then said.
Following this, over 150 police personnel who were deployed in the tiny village, formed a human chain and barricaded the family members from reaching the ambulance or the cremation site.
Generators and wood logs had been kept ready at the cremation site without informing the family even before the body had reached the village. Around 2:25 am, the pyre was lit without any family members who didn’t get to see the woman’s body.