Would You Have Burnt Body if Victim's Family Was Well-to-Do? HC Pulls up UP Officials

In view of the state’s request for adequate time to file its replies, the bench decided to adjourn the matter till November 2.

Lucknow: The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on Monday pulled up top Uttar Pradesh government officials over the handling of the Hathras gangrape and murder case. The case had come up for hearing after the court took suo motu cognizance of the issue last week following media reports that raised serious questions about the behaviour of the police. The court had taken note especially of the youg Dalit victim’s hurried cremation, and had directed the kin of the deceased to appear before it to hear their version of the incident that took place in the middle of the night.

“Would you have burnt the body if the victim was from a well-to-do family?” the bench comprising Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Rajan Roy, pointedly asked district magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar, referring to the cremation that was carried out well after midnight and without the presence of the girl’s family members – who were physically prevented from getting close to the cremation site. The bench also asked Kumar if he would have allowed his own daughter to be cremated in a similar way.

Also read: Hathras Victim’s Family to Appear Before Allahabad HC on Monday Amid Tight Security

The court gave a patient hearing to the victim’s parents, who accused the district magistrate and the police of neither allowing them a last glimpse of their daughter’s body, nor permitting them to be present at the hastily carried out cremation.

The victim, a 19-year old Dalit girl, was gangraped and brutalised, allegedly by four upper caste young Thakur men on September 14 in Boolgarhi village of Hathras district. The girl was taken from hospital to hospital until she breathed her last on September 29 at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.

Tight security arrangements at the high court on October 12, 2020. Photo: PTI/Nand Kumar

In his deposition before the court, the young woman’s father disclosed how the district magistrate had allegedly told them, “You are getting Rs 25 lakh from the chief minister’s fund, do you think you would have got that if your daughter had died due to coronavirus?”

The district magistrate’s replies failed to make much of an impression with the bench. District superintendent of police Vikrant Vir sought to impress upon the court that whatever he had done was on his own accord and that he had not received any “instructions from Lucknow”, the state capital. Summoned by the court, state director general of police Hitesh Chandra Awasthi, additional chief secretary (home) Avanish Kumar Awasthi and additional director general of police (law and order) Prashant Kumar were also present in the court throughout the hearing, along with other lower district officials from Hathras.

Prashant Kumar, who was grilled by the judges, told the court that his focus had been on ensuring that the situation did not get out of control, as he had had serious intelligence inputs about people conspiring to incite trouble and create a law and order problem in the village. He claimed that crowds had already collected in the village and that bigger crowds were expected to converge by the morning. This is why the cremation had to be expedited, he said.

Also read: UP’s Handling of Hathras Case in Violation of UN Convention on Racial Discrimination

While the victim’s family was represented by advocate Seema Kushwaha – who was also the legal counsel for the victim in the Nirbhaya case – the state was represented by additional advocate general Vinod Shahi.

In view of the state’s request for adequate time to file its replies, the bench decided to adjourn the matter till November 2.

Meanwhile, the Adityanath government has not only handed over the case to the CBI, but has also called for a Supreme Court monitored CBI probe. Finally, on October 11, eight days after the UP CM’s recommendation, the CBI finally registered a case.

The UP police has also been trying to claim the Dalit woman was not raped – even though the medico-legal examination report by the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital (JNMCH) at Aligarh is non-committal. The UP police has also filed 19 FIRs in connection with the spate of protests in the aftermath of the creation of the young Dalit woman, in light of alleged security inputs about an “international conspiracy” to defame the Adityanath government.