Hathras, Uttar Pradesh: For a fortnight, the Dalit gang rape victim from Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district fought for her life. Her limbs were paralysed and her tongue was brutally wounded.
Those arrested for the crime were four upper caste Thakur men, Sandeep (20), his uncle Ravi (35) and their friends Luv Kush (23) and Ramu (26). Even before the latest violence, Sandeep had allegedly harassed the victim so much that she would scarcely leave the house.
She breathed her last on the morning of September 29.
As the country burst into outrage, fresher hell lay waiting for the family of the woman.
On Wednesday morning, family said that they were not allowed to even look at the victim’s dead body before police hurriedly completed the last rites in the dead of the night, without any rituals that the family would have liked to perform.
When this correspondent reached the house of the 19-year-old woman who had been the victim of such grievous sexual and physical assault by four Thakur men of her village that she eventually succumbed to her injuries – her family were more angry than sad.
Distraught, the victim’s mother attempted to speak several times but failed. Eventually, she said, “My daughter is unlucky to have been born in a village of Thakurs.” ‘Thakurs’ are a feudal and aggressive ‘upper’ caste group identified by their surname. The community enjoys political influence in the state and the chief minister too belongs to the Thakur community.
Family not allowed to catch last glimpse
The family alleged that at around 2.30 am, they were locked up in the house by Uttar Pradesh Police and the body of their daughter was taken away for cremation.
“They burnt her body without any proper Hindu rituals at about 3 am. Didn’t she deserve even that much dignity?” asked a family member.
“Her mother kept asking the police to allow her to see her face one last time. Do those officers not have daughters? Why did they not understand our wish to see her one last time before we bid her farewell?” asked her paternal aunt.
She told The Wire, “We folded our hands in front of the police but they were not convinced. We spread our pallus and begged them to let us see her. But this was not granted. If Yogi ji (Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath) had children, he would have understood our plight. What will he understand about losing a child?”
The victim’s aunt said that she was the youngest in the family, and loved by all. “She was the guriya (doll) of the house. You know the happiness the children feel when they are given dolls to play with? That’s the kind of happiness she brought into our house. She was an ideal daughter who would fulfil all her responsibilities without any question.”
The victim was given minimal responsibilities in the household. When others went to the fields to work, she stayed at home with her sister-in-law. The aunt said, “Her only work was to fetch water and sometimes, the fodder to feed the cows. She would also clean the shed and dust the house.”
On September 14, a gang of four men from the village’s Thakur community allegedly lifted her from the agricultural fields where she had gone with her mother. Her mother was hard of hearing, and said that she did not notice the scuffle. In a short while, she discovered her her daughter in a pool of blood, a few feet away from her. The fact that the accused acted without fear in spite of the mother’s presence a few feet from the victim is a glaring testament to the impunity they enjoy and exercise in the village.
She was badly assaulted – her tongue wounded, her spinal cord and neck severally bruised, which reportedly left her paralysed in all four limbs. Initially, no rape cases were lodged but only a case of attempt to murder and one under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Later, on regaining conscious, she gave a statement to police, and a case of rape was registered. She was admitted first to a hospital in Hathras and later moved to the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Aligarh.
By September 27, all the four persons named by her as her assaulters were arrested. They are now in judicial custody.
However, on September 28, as her condition began deteriorating, she was rushed to the Safdurjung Hospital in Delhi. Hours later, she passed away due to a cardiac arrest. The police refused to hand over her body to the family. By then, several activists from various groups had reached the hospital and begun a dharna demanding justice for her.
Late in the night, the family was allowed to carry the body home one last time, for the mother to see her. But the actual turn of events did not allow for that.
Family suffered sustained caste-based harassment
Thakurs, the caste group to which the accused belong, form the majority in her village along with Brahmins. Out of about 200 houses, only four are Dalit households. The immediate family, fellow villagers and relatives gathered at the house have all experienced caste-based ill treatment. The main accused, Sandeep’s father, had spent three months in jail under the SC/ST Act for assaulting the grandfather of the victim, the year she was born. As per some reports, Sandeep is said to have harassed the victim so much that she stopped going out of the house altogether.
None of the five children of the house, including the victim, have completed their school education. Her brother said that the lack of formal education in their family was a point of regret but was doubtful if the victim could have got it even if she was alive. “Earlier, three of my sisters would tie a rakhi each on my wrist. Now only two will,” he said.
Significantly, the family also said they no longer feel safe in the village and would rather leave it. “No matter what now, we can’t live in the village anymore. What’s the point of living here anymore anyway? The neighbours, the Thakurs of the village, have not even asked us once about her,” said the victim’s sister-in-law.
“We will have to leave the village at any cost to avoid any further confrontation and violence on us. Our demand is that the culprits be hanged. If that doesn’t happen, the others will get more courage to commit such a crime,” said the brother.
He said the family voted for the BJP in the last assembly elections but they would not “repeat the same mistake.”
“If they are not with us, why should we support them?”
“All I want is justice for my daughter now and security for my family,” added the father.
In Hathras town, the situation has been tense since the morning. Around noon, protesters gathered to agitate against the incident and reportedly pelted stones.