“Kaun khelega (who will play)?”
The mother of the nine-year-old Dalit girl, who was found dead at a crematorium at Southwest Delhi four days ago, points to her daughter’s toys — a board game and a small drum. Inside the family’s one-room home, there’s also a pair of small white shoes with golden heels. “My daughter was smart, she used to make everybody laugh,” she says.
The girl’s mysterious death and hurried cremation — the family has alleged she was raped — has prompted outrage in the national capital, and triggered a political firestorm.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited the family and demanded justice while the BJP’s Sambit Patra accused him of “using the case” to further his political agenda. And child rights body NCPCR asked Twitter to take action against Rahul’s handle for sharing a photo of the girl’s family, saying it violates the Juvenile Justice and POCSO Acts.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, ordered a magisterial inquiry into the death and cremation, and announced compensation of Rs 10 lakh after meeting the family.
Away from all this, however, the family was struggling to come to terms with the loss.
Near their room, amidst a clutch of homes, is a shrine, and across the road is the crematorium. A neighbour said the girl’s mother would often sit near the shrine and seek alms, or collect garbage to sell. The child’s father is unemployed, he said.
According to the mother, she was at the shrine on Sunday evening while her husband went to get vegetables. “My daughter wanted to play and was going to get water from the crematorium. Later, the pandit ji and some others came to me and said she was dead. I rushed to the crematorium. He said she had been electrocuted. He asked me not to cry or shout. He told me that the police will take the child away, do a post-mortem and sell her organs,” she alleged.
“My child’s clothes were wet and her lips blue… I fell unconscious. They later asked me if I wanted food, and I said no,” she said. By then, she said, they had set fire to the body. “They asked me to sign the papers. But I refused. Pandit ji asked me to go back home quietly and sleep. He asked me to come back in the morning to take the ashes for immersion in the Yamuna. But by then, people from the area and the police had arrived. When the fire was doused, the body was half-burnt,” she said.
Police have arrested the priest, Radhe Shyam (55), and three others — Kuldeep Kumar (63), Laxmi Narain (48) and Mohd Salim (49) — and the case has been transferred to the Crime Branch.
The girl’s mother has said she suspects her daughter was raped. But, a medical board set up to look into the death has said in its report to police that it is unable to confirm this charge or the cause of death since an analysis of the charred remains has not yielded much information. Apart from murder, the accused also face charges under POCSO and SC/ST Act.
Ajit Kumar, 35, who lives in the area, said he got a call around 9.20 p.m Sunday about a child being burnt, and it took him around 5-6 minutes to reach the spot on his bike. “When we reached there, four people were trying to run away from the crematorium. We tried to stop them and there was a scuffle,” he claimed.
On Wednesday, two protest tents were set up on the main road, a little distance away from the shrine with a crowd demanding the death penalty for those arrested. Later, the Army served a notice to the protesters, asking them to vacate the area. Referring to a copy marked to police, DCP (southwest) Ingit Pratap Singh said the notice was served “in view of the upcoming Independence Day”.
But the by-lanes of the area were quiet, with groups of residents gathered at a few spots, discussing the incident.
One of the accused, Laxmi Narain, stays in one of these by-lanes. “He is innocent. He works as a painter and came home between 6 pm and 6.30 pm that day. He handed some money to me and headed out to get a shave. That was the last we saw of him. We tried calling him, but could not get through to his phone after that,” said Kiran, his wife.
“On Monday, I was called to the police station to collect his wallet and phone. I met him there and he told me that he had only gone to see what was happening at the crematorium,” she said
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