Hathras incident of the 19 year Dalit girl’s alleged rape and murder has stirred the nation into confronting its dual evils of gender violence and caste-based violence. Not everyone is on the same page however. While the administrative and state authorities in Uttar Pradesh seem to be trying to suppress and dissuade the narrative of rape and of caste violence, activists, civil society and victim’s family are fighting to defend these narratives in seeking justice for the girl. It is important that the medical, legal and other political developments in the case be followed up since the UP Police forcibly carried out her funeral, denied the allegations of rape and caste discrimination and the district magistrate threatened the family.
After the alleged rape and sexual assault was first reported on September 14, full eight days had passed before her FIR was lodged by the police in the Chandpa Police Station. Such a delay is commonplace in the state of Uttar Pradesh where women who are raped are either not believed or are harassed while registering the complaint, dissuading them from approaching the police after experiences of sexual assault. For Dalit women, the experience is much worse. In the Hathras incident, the girl and her family were harassed by the police when they first approached them. The girl gave her first statement on camera after regaining consciousness at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical Hospital on September 22 where she alleged that she was sexually-assaulted by four known men of the same village. Based on this, her samples were collected and a Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) was sent for, eleven days after the attack on her.
It is this FSL report that has become a point of debate with the Chief Medical Officer of Aligarh’s hospital saying that the report which the UP Police is using to proclaim that the girl was not raped, holds no value. Stating that the samples were 11 days old, Dr Azeem Malik told The Indian Express that “The samples were collected 11 days after the woman was allegedly raped, while government guidelines strictly say forensic evidence can only be found up to 96 hours after the incident. This report can’t confirm rape in this incident”.
Observers are pushing for recognition of the fact that the report could be more accurately ‘characterized as neither confirming nor denying rape’. While the Forensic samples become irrelevant if not taken at the right time, it is also imperative to understand that the definition of rape does not necessarily include presence of semen or even the act of penetration. More importantly, the video recording of the victim’s statement is being considered the most crucial evidence against the accused, as per the latest anti-rape laws suggested under the Justice JS Verma Committee. In the video ‘she clearly speaks about ‘zabardasti’, or force, being done – a well-known euphemism for rape – and also names some of the attackers’. In the video ‘she clearly speaks about ‘zabardasti’, or force, being done – a well-known euphemism for rape – and also names some of the attackers’.
As if the atmosphere of fear and intimidation was not enough while she was alive, the state authorities have been leaving no chance to add to the family’s woes after her death as well. After the District Magistrate was seen threatening the girl’s family to take back the case, and the ADG and the Police Chief denying that she was raped, reports have appeared of the UP government building a PR campaign to push the controversial claim that the girl was not raped. On Thursday, many foreign correspondents in India and some national correspondents received a ‘clarification note’ from Mumbai based firm Concept PR saying the following:
“Hathras girl was not rape, reveal Forensic investigation, Preliminary Medical and Post-mortem report”
“The reports also revealed the conspiracy to push the state into caste turmoil”
“SIT is sure to unveil evil design behind the whole incident”
The note makes it clear that the ongoing investigation is trying to divert the focus from the crime to the “conspiracy to push the state into caste turmoil”. Through the note, it also seems that the government is also trying to caution the media for calling the crime gang-rape. The claims of a malafide campaign as a response to international media’s coverage of the Hathras incident is in line with the central government’s routine efforts to maintain a clean image of India by blocking media and calling global involvement in India’s issues as part of a conspiracy.
On October 5, the UP Police claimed that they have uncovered an “international plot” in connection to the Hathras incident. They have claimed that a website called justiceforhathrasvictim.carrd.co has been found to be linked to the conspiracy of instigating riots along caste lines and defaming the BJP government in UP. According to sources, which has been made unavailable now is giving out information on how to protest safely and avoid the police. The content of the website, the police claims, has been lifted from the online literature of Black Lives Matter movement in the USA.
Protests have been surfacing across the country, demanding a solid just probe to serve justice to the victim of the Hathras incident. Groups of student unions, Dalit activists, women’s rights activists, lawyers and many others have organised themselves and have been facing arrests and police action since the night of her coerced and surreptitious cremation by the UP Police. On Saturday, a section of Municipal Corporation Safai Karamcharis from the Valmiki community in Agra, who have been on strike since after the death of the girl to demand justice for her, were lathicharged by the police as they allegedly engaged in vandalism and stone pelting at the policemen.
Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad is facing an FIR registered against him and 400-500 others for violating Section 144 CrPC and the Epidemic Diseases Act while organising in Hathras village. Azad, who has been a loud voice in protest against the Dalit oppression, has been seeking permission to bring the victim’s family with him in protection of his home. He has also repeatedly expressed the need for the state to provide security to the family of the girl and alleged that if the government can arrange Y level security for Kangana Ranaut, why they can’t do that for the Dalit family.
Congress party that has been seen on its toes, leading the opposition’s charge against the UP state’s administration has demanded the dismissal of the Hathras District Magistrate for allegedly threatening the girl’s family, and has demanded a CBI probe for investigation of the case. On October 3, an FIR was registered against 500 Congress workers at Gautam Buddh Nagar Police Station for unlawful assembly, disobedience to order by public servant and for negligence during a pandemic. Congress workers staged massive protests in several states on Monday in response to a call for countrywide Satyagraha by the party leadership. A statement by party general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal said “The Congress party has resolved to relentlessly fight against arbitrary and unconstitutional ways of the Yogi government and ensure justice to the victim and her family. In our continued effort to provide justice to the family of Hathras victim, the party has decided to hold ‘Satyagrah’ on Monday”.
For days, Hathras has been under siege by UP Police, guarding against any entry of media persons, protestors or politicians. The family was not being allowed to speak to any outsider regarding the incident, as their phones were taken away. The victim’s family has refused to immerse the ashes of the girl until justice is delivered. The brother of the victim has, on several occasions, raised doubts regarding the ongoing investigation, with due submission to cooperation with the authorities. He has also raised questions regarding the SIT probe demanding that the victim’s family be subjected to polygraph and narco-analysis tests. The SIT submitted its initial report on Friday following which the government decided to conduct the legally contentious tests for all those involved, including the accused and the victim’s family. The victim’s brother has said that while they are ready for any examination, they want to know why they should undergo the tests when no other victim’s family was ever asked for such a cooperation. A narco-analysis test ‘involves the injection of drugs such as sodium pentothal, scopolamine and sodium amytal that cause the subject to enter various states of unconsciousness’. Legal precedents have revealed that the tests can impinge on a person’s right against self-incrimination and right to personal liberty. A Mumbai based activist Saket Gokhale has filed a petition before the Allahabad High Court against the SIT suggestion stating that it is an attempt to coerce the victim’s family before it appears at the High Court on October 12.