Cremated in the Dead of the Night: Would Hathras Victim Have Met This Fate Had She Not Been Dalit?

Social Commentary

Cremated in the Dead of the Night: Would Hathras Victim Have Met This Fate Had She Not Been Dalit?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

As if the reports of the brutal Hathras gang rape and subsequent death of the victim due to injuries weren’t upsetting enough, there is a sad epilogue to the incident in the way the Uttar Pradesh police have reacted in its wake. When the victim died in a Delhi hospital, after battling for her life for two weeks, the police claimed that they had not found evidence of sexual assault. The local Hathras police made this claim even though the victim and her family had been alleging sexual assault as far back as September 14.

“No signs of sexual assault was confirmed by doctors in either Hathras or Aligarh,” the Hathras SP said.
It took 8 years for Jyoti to get justice, this is going to be an even longer wait. #StopThisShame

— Naina Chaturvedi (@Naina_2892) September 29, 2020

This dismissal of the family’s claims was not the last chapter in the story. The friction between the police and the family continued as the victim’s body was brought back to Hathras from Delhi. The police reportedly reached the village in the night, and proceeded to cremate the woman’s body without handing it over the family, going so far as to barricade them in their home while the cremation was carried out.
Reporter Tanushree Pandey was at the scene in Hathras, posting regular video updates on Twitter that document the body’s transportation, the friction between the police and the villagers, as well as the final act of cremation, which was being denied by a police officer on camera even as the body burned in the background.

ABSOLUTELY UNBELIEVABLE – Right behind me is the body of #HathrasCase victim burning. Police barricaded the family inside their home and burnt the body without letting anybody know. When we questioned the police, this is what they did.

— Tanushree Pandey (@TanushreePande) September 29, 2020

The Hathras Police later responded to Pandey’s posts on Twitter, claiming the cremation had been carried out with the victim’s family’s consent.

थाना चन्दपा क्षेत्रान्तर्गत घटित दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण घटना में मृतिका का शव गांव पहुंच गया है तथा परिवारीजनो के अनुसार अन्तिम संस्कार किया जायेगा ।

— HATHRAS POLICE (@hathraspolice) September 29, 2020

Anger over the police’s handling of the entire case is boiling over on social media. There are allegations that the police and authorities are acting with impunity because the victim belongs to the Dalit community.

The biggest story for the Indian media today should be the sheer cruelty and brutality of the UP police in Hathras in denying the rape and murder victim’s family even the dignity of a funeral for her. Would they have done the same with an upper caste family? Beyond outrageous

— Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi) September 30, 2020

20 mins after this video was shot, the young woman was cremated by police. Daroga ji giving sermons: hindu reeti riwaj mein raat ko bhi daah sanskar hota hai”
Will they dare do this to a rich or a upper caste family?

— vijaita singh (@vijaita) September 30, 2020

It’s not only the police who have come in for criticism. A number of voices on Twitter, including lawyer and activist Dushyant and journalist Saahil Murli Menghani, have been calling for political resignations over the authorities’ mishandling of the Hathras case, including UP Chief Minister Adityanath’s.

Brutally raped. Proper FIR not registered. Top bureaucrat calls it fake news. Girl Not sent to hospital in time. Family not allowed to even cremate her as per their wishes.

It is simple. Adityanath must resign. & if they have any shame so should journalists like Rahul Kanwal

— Dushyant (@atti_cus) September 30, 2020

The big coverup.

At ~2:25 am, UP Police told me that Hathras victim’s cremation would be done at a time & place of family’s choosing. In minutes, ground reports showed it was a lie.

Attempts made to stop reporters. In a democracy, this should lead to top political resignations.

— Saahil Murli Menghani (@saahilmenghani) September 29, 2020

The Hathras case has reopened a difficult conversation about caste and gender in India. It’s a problem that must be addressed, but also a tragedy that it takes cases like Hathras to bring it to the fore.