A young Dalit woman succumbed to injuries after allegedly being brutally gang-raped by upper-caste men in northern India triggering massive outrage.
According to police, the 19-year-old woman and her mother were collecting fodder when four men dragged her by the dupatta (a piece of long cloth loosely worn around the neck) to a field and allegedly sexually assaulted her.
The ‘lower-caste’ woman was left with grievous injuries to her neck and spine.
The men who allegedly carried out the attack come from the same district as the victim in Uttar Pradesh state.
The victim’s brother took her to the police station to lodge a complaint, but police officers refused to register a first information report. Five policemen, including the police station in charge have since been suspended for dereliction of duty.
The teenager was first admitted to the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Aligarh, but when her condition worsened she was shifted to Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi on Sept. 28 where she died the next day.
Before her death the victim named Sandeep Singh, Luvkush Singh, Ramu Singh and Ravi Singh as the perpetrators of the crime. All four accused — who belong to the Thakur or upper caste in Hindu hierarchy — have been arrested.
Police brought the young woman’s body to the village by ambulance and without the consent of family members they cremated her remains in the middle of the night in an open field after barricading the victim’s family in their home.
The victim’s family claimed their daughter’s cremation was carried out against their wishes.
“We told the administration we want to cremate her in the morning as per Hindu rituals, but they did not listen to us. They locked us inside our home and burned her body,” the girl’s brother told Al Jazeera.
The family said the authorities did not allow them one last look at the young woman’s face.
“When even COVID victims have a right to get a dignified funeral, what the state police did speaks volumes about their insensitivity to human beings,” said Father Suresh Mathew, editor of the Indian Currents weekly.
Prashant Kumar, additional director general, Law and Order, UP said the family’s consent was taken before the cremation which was held at night to avoid any law and order situation.
The Allahabad High Court has termed the hurried cremation “a disregard of protocol and highhandedness by the police”. Stating that “the incident has shocked our conscience”, the court asked the victim’s family, top administrative and police officials to appear before it on Oct. 12.
Police have also been accused of intimidating the family in a bid to stop them talking to the media. A police official said that the media has been banned from the village so that investigation isn’t hampered. The state police have likewise barred opposition party members from meeting the victim’s family.
“There is next to no protection for women. Criminals are openly committing crimes,” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said on Twitter about the crime.
News of the incident has brought on a swell of outrage across the country with protests being held; among them a massive protest in Delhi on Oct. 2.
Protests were even held outside India with about 50 people holding placards and slogans demanding a speedy trial and justice for the victim’s family at a rally held outside the UN headquarters in New York, Oct. 4.
Under fire for its handling of the incident, the Uttar Pradesh government has called it an “internationally hatched plot” organized to defame the government and have ordered a probe.
Around 20 percent of the approximately 200 million people who live in Uttar Pradesh are considered Dalits who were once referred to as the “untouchables,” people at the lowest point of India’s caste system. Dalit women are mainly landless laborers or scavengers.
According to a National Crime Records Bureau report, 3,500 Dalit women were raped across the country last year while more than 500 Dalit women were sexually assaulted in Uttar Pradesh alone.
Last week, Uttar Pradesh reported another case where a 22-year-old Dalit woman was raped and killed in the state’s Balrampur district on Sept 29. She was also cremated in the early hours of Sept. 30 by police.
Rights group Human Rights Watch report said that landlords and police have used sexual assault and other forms of violence against Dalit women to suppress their voice.
Anuradha Banerjee, a professor with Jawaharlal Nehru University, said women and girls in India have traditionally suffered on account of gender and other inequalities. “In the case of Dalit women, they suffer triple oppression of caste, class and gender,” she said.