From claims of honour killing, justice for the upper-caste accused, ‘conspiracy to incite violence’, arrest of journalist Siddique Kappan and many more incongruities, the Hathras case has seen it all in a bid to cover up a crime and state excesses. Now that the CBI chargesheet has finally confirmed gangrape, NIHARIKA RAVI refreshes our memory on what transpired in the case that shocked national conscious, and what transpired in the case once the national attention dwindled.
A 19-year old Dalit woman accompanied her mother to the fields at 9:30 am on September 14 in Boolgarhi village, Hathras district, UP. The family often went to these Thakur-owned fields to collect grass for their cattle, but on that fateful day, the mother suddenly heard her daughter’s cries. She found her lying on the ground, covered in blood and with her tongue cut off. She immediately called her son, and together, they took the young lady to the Chandpa police station.
The police significantly delayed the FIR, asking the family to take the girl away. The victim’s brother said that one of the accused, Sandeep, attempted to murder her while she was slipping in and out of consciousness. An FIR under Section 354 IPC was then filed against Sandeep. The police then took the victim to a district hospital that did not have the facilities to treat her. The doctor referred her to the AMU, JNMC Hospital, Aligarh where she was admitted for 14 days.
On September 19, the victim mentioned molestation and named two attackers that included Sandeep. He was then arrested. The victim’s dying declaration before the DM was recorded on September 22 in which she named the other three accused, Lavkush, Ravi, and Ramu. She accused them of sexual assault. They were all charged with gang-rape and murder and arrested within the next few days.
Videos of the girl telling the police that “Gala daba diya (They strangled me)” and “Zabardasti na karne de rahi taiku (Because I did not let them force me)” when asked why did their rounds on the internet.
The medico-legal examination done at AMU JNMC that day mentioned the “use of force.” Opinion regarding penetrative intercourse was reserved for the FSL Report.
The victim passed away on September 29, a day after she was moved to Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi in a critical condition.
Had the procedure been followed correctly, the victim would have been taken to a rape crisis centre. She would have undergone a sexual assault forensic examination within 24 hours. However, she was never taken to a crisis centre and the examination was delayed for so long that forensic evidence of the presence of semen was compromised.
Though she stated in her dying declaration that she had been assaulted, a senior police official told the press that the forensic report “made it clear” that the woman was not raped and that “according to the post-mortem report, the victim died due to trauma of her neck injury.”
Arguably, one of the most controversial aspects of the Hathras case was the fact that the police forcefully cremated the victim without the consent of her parents at around 2:30 A.M. on September 30.
In doing so, the police destroyed all evidence that an independent post-mortem may have revealed, having locked the family in their house, denying them the last chance to see their daughter despite their pleas to not cremate her at night that went against their rituals.
The UP Government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on October 6 defending the UP Police’s actions, saying that the cremation was done in this fashion on the basis of intelligence inputs “to avoid large-scale violence” the next morning.
CBI takes over Investigation
The CBI took over the probe on October 11 and IPC sections relevant to gang-rape and murder were invoked along with relevant sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The CBI team collected evidence from their house without the consent or involvement of the family members on October 13.
Special Task Force Involved
Another angle emerged in the case in mid-October and a Special Task Force of the UP Police was set up to investigate 4 cases lodged in 3 districts in connection with an alleged conspiracy to incite caste violence in the state. Teams were reportedly already in Mathura, Hathras, and Aligarh on October 23.
Journalist Siddique Kappan and three others were arrested from Mathura when they were on their way to Hathras to report the case. Police alleged he had connections with the Popular Front of India (PFI), and its students’ wing Campus Front of India and claimed that there was a conspiracy to instigate riots along caste lines and defame the state government.
A Mathura Court rejected the journalists’ plea for bail on November 14 despite the fact that Kappan was tortured in jail in October.
Supreme Court Issues Directions
On October 27, the Allahabad High Court was allowed to monitor all aspects of the case including the CBI investigations by the Supreme Court. The Apex Court, while hearing petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the case, also said that a request to transfer the trial out of UP “has been left open” until the investigation is completed.
Allahabad High Court questions absence of action against District Magistrate
The District Magistrate reiterated the earlier claim that the decision to bury the body was taken in view of the law and order situation. The bench asked the state government why it had suspended Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir for the rushed cremation but not taken any action against the District Magistrate, though the decision to cremate at the late hour was taken jointly.
The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad HC expressed concern that no action had been taken against the DM during the second hearing on November 2. The State assured that it would take a decision in this regard by November 25 and the Bench also directed the CBI to lay status of the investigation before it on the next date.
On November 26, The bench of Justices Pankaj Mithal and Rajan Roy heard the matter at length and expressed concern over the state government’s stand not to shift the Hathras district magistrate.
Family Unhappy: CBI focuses on Honour Killing
Soon thereafter, reports emerged that the victim’s family was unhappy with the CBI probe. The brother claimed that the CBI had directly asked him if he had killed his sister, insisting that the agency was probing the case along the lines of honour killing.
One article pointed out that honour killing is, in fact, an upper-caste practice- a fact that the CBI and the press conveniently forgot while accusing the victim’s Dalit brother.
The four accused were taken to Gandhinagar, Gujarat on November 21. They underwent medical tests, and subsequently polygraph tests at FSL, Gandhinagar.
CBI completes investigation
The CBI furnished the status report before the Lucknow bench on November 25, assuring that the probe would be over by December 10. On December 16, the CBI sought more time to conclude the investigation and file a charge sheet. The charge sheet was filed on December 18, accusing four people. It said that the victim was gang-raped and killed. It also invoked the Atrocities Act.
The next hearing is scheduled before the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad HC on December 27.
(Niharika Ravi is a law student at NMIMS, Navi Mumbai, and an intern with The Leaflet.)