Rajat Sharma

Insensitive Hathras Police: cremation at night

akb0809My heart fills with sorrow, anger and pain over what Hathras police did on Tuesday night to brazenly cover up its lies in the dead of night. Sorrow, because a 19-year-old girl who was tortured and gang-raped by four people died; pain, on watching the tears of the girl’s parents; and anger, over how Hathras police set fire to basic human values of dignity when it hurriedly cremated the body in the absence of family members.

At 2.40 am on Tuesday night in the poor Dalit family’s village, the police not only cremated the gang-rape victim’s body in a hurry, but also made a bonfire of all civil laws, all sense of human dignity and the majesty of the police uniform. All this was done through brazen assertion of the clout of its uniform, before a crowd of villagers silently watching the funeral pyre.

Till the last moment, the Dalit parents and the victim’s brother pleaded before police officers to allow the cremation to be done early at dawn, according to Hindu rites, so that relatives could come and have a last look at the girl, but the police officders did not budge. They were clearly in a hurry to cremate, so that the lies that they had dished out over the last two weeks could be covered up, for ever.

In the presence of District Magistrate and Superintendent of police, hundreds of policemen assembled at the cremation ground and put the victim’s body on the funeral pyre. A handful of villagers who insisted on seeing the girl’s face, were threatened by policemen with dialogues like ‘zyada boley toh tapka doonga’( will shoot you if you speak much). This threat was recorded on camera.

My simple question to the administration: what was the girl’s crime because of which the DM ordered that the body be cremated in the dead of night? Was she an orphan? Was she a destitute? Even the last rites of dreaded terrorists are conducted with dignity, their family members are called to have a last look, but in Hathras, police did not give even the minimal amount of respect to the victim and her family members. They did not show mercy towards the victim’s parents and brother. The girl’s father was kicked by a policeman, and her brother was beaten up by another inside his house. Reason: they were insisting that the body be cremated at dawn.

The police officers forcibly took away the victim’s body from her house to the cremation ground and later claimed that the cremation was done “with the consent of family members”. Nothing could be more shameful than this white lie.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, I showed how the girl’s parents pleaded before police officers, and what the officers replied to family members. No more evidence is required to prove that the local administration’s attitude was abrasive and arrogant. I showed how the girl’s father was begging before the DM to allow his family to have a last look at the girl, and the DM replied that he would allow them but the cremation must be done immediately. How can a senior official be so cruel and brazen, telling the victim’s father ‘not to fall in the trap of villagers’?

At a time when the entire nation stands in sympathy with the victim’s family, the local administration which is supposed to provide help and succour to the victim’s family was behaving in a heartless manner. I would not describe it as ‘final rites’, because in Hindu religious tradition, a body is not cremated after sunset. There was nobody from the family to weep near the funeral pyre when it was lit. Only scores of policemen were standing near the pyre, with full barricading in place, and the victim’s body turned into ashes in the fearful and still silence of the night.

India TV reporter Anand Pandey managed to reach the girl’s home on Tuesday night even before the police put barricades around the village to stop the media from sneaking in. In my show, I showed how the girl’s mother along with other women stood in front of the police ambulance to stop the body from being taken directly to the cremation ground. The women were demanding that the body be first taken to the girl’s home. But policemen were adamant. Women police constables were called in and they were asked to remove the women who were squatting on the ground in front of the ambulance. The menfolk were chased away by policemen with lathis.

Senior police officials, wearing helmets, reached the spot. At first, they insisted that the cremation would be done immediately, but the womenfolk said the body should at least be taken to the girl’s home for a last look. After much persistence, the ambulance was taken to the girl’s home but a fresh problem arose. The villagers had brought ice slabs to prevent the body from decomposing, and the girl’s parents insisted that the body be kept in home at least till dawn. Police then took a tough line and the ambulance was taken straight to the cremation ground. Another problem arose over how to cremate the body in the absence of family members. The girl’s uncle and her grandfather were forcibly brought to the cremation ground in a police jeep.

Police officers tried to persuade family members to come to the cremation ground, but they insisted that the cremation must be carried out at dawn. Heated exchanges took place between the police and family members, one policeman kicked the girl’s father, and another policeman started beating her brother.

In my show, I showed how policemen were trying to drag family members into police jeeps, but the girl’s family resisted. Finally, with the family barricading itself inside the house, police carried out the final rites of the gang-rape victim at the cremation ground. The family members were in such a state of fear that they did not dare to venture outside their house throughout the night. This was how a gang-rape victim was cremated in the dead of night. Such an act is unprecedented and unheard of, at least in recent times.

The Hathras DM’s claim that the cremation was done after obtaining consent of the victim’s family is a plain lie. The girl’s mother and brother told India TV on camera that they were being forced to go to the cremation ground, but they resisted and staying inside their home. The girl’s mother said that the family members were beaten up by police

The only reason behind a hurried cremation was that the local administration wanted the matter to fizzle out at the earliest. Police officers feared that if the cremation took place in the morning in the presence of media, the matter would go out of hand. The local administration wanted to cover up all the lies that were being dished out by police since the gang-rape incident. The police was clearly unwilling to face intense media scrutiny. But they evidently forgot that TV news channel staff do not sleep at night and they recorded all the drama that took place inside the girl’s house.

My view is that the matter would not have gone out of hand, had the police spoken the truth from the beginning. The police was dishing out lies one after another and was trying to obfuscate matters. If the police had acted fairly in the beginning, the girl’s life could have been saved.

The first lie that police made was that it was sexual harassment and not a gang-rape. The second lie that police made was that only one accused was involved. The third lie was: there were no spinal injuries. The fourth lie was: the rapists did not cut off her tongue. The fifth lie was: the victim was undergoing proper treatment. The final lie made by police on Wednesday was: the cremation was done with the consent of the family.

How can the family of a gang-rape victim, in the face of so many lies, trust the local police to provide justice, and ensure that the rapists-cum-murderers are hanged? UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has realized that the opposition parties may try to take undue advantage because all the four accused belonged to Rajput community and the victim was a Dalit girl. The lies that were dished out by local administration and police will ultimately hurt Yogi.

Yogi Adityanath spoke to the girl’s father on phone, promised to give Rs 25 lakhs as assistance, a house and a government job for his son. This is not adequate. The rapists-cum-murderers must be hanged at the earliest, and Yogi must ensure that the prosecution be launched without any delay. He must ensure that the police prepares its case diligently and top lawyers are hired to fight the prosecution’s case in court. He must also ensure that the verdict must come from the fast track court within a definite time frame.

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