The Allahabad High Court on Thursday took suo motu cognizance of the fatal assault and alleged gangrape of a Dalit woman in Hathras, especially her hurried cremation, and directed senior officials of the state government and police, including of the district, to be present at the next hearing on October 12.
A two-judge Bench said family members of the deceased would also be present that day so that the court could hear their version of the cremation organised by the police in the middle of the night, and wondered if the authorities acted thus because of their economic status. It also said that it would decide “as to the necessity of monitoring the investigation or getting it conducted through an independent agency as per law”. Read in Malayalam
The Bench of Justices Rajan Roy and Jaspreet Singh, that quoted extensively from a report by The Indian Express that appeared on Thursday, said that while four accused had been arrested and an SIT set up to probe the matter, “However, for the moment, we are concerned with what has happened thereafter. The incidents which took place after the death of the victim on 29.09.2020 leading up to her cremation, as alleged, have shocked our conscience, therefore, we are taking suo moto cognizance of the same.”
The court said the matter is of “immense public importance and public interest” as there are allegations of “high-handedness by the state authorities resulting in violation of the basic human and fundamental rights not only of the deceased victim but also of her family members”.
The judges said, “As it is, the deceased victim was treated with extreme brutality by the perpetrators of the crime, and what is alleged to have happened thereafter, if true, amounts to perpetuating the misery of the family and rubbing salt in their wounds.”
The court said that it would like to examine “whether the economic and social status of the deceased’s family has been taken advantage of by the state authorities to oppress and deprive them of their Constitutional rights”.
Quoting from the Express report, the Lucknow Bench of the High Court that took up the matter added, “In this regard we have taken note of a news reported in Indian Express, Lucknow edition dated 01.10.2020, with the headline ‘U.P. Police out in full force to cremate Hathras women, away from family’… As per the said report, ‘From the moment the body of the deceased victim left Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital at 9:30 pm on Tuesday to a hurried cremation in a Hathras village 200 kilometers away at 3:30 am on Wednesday, it was marked by a disregard to protocol and high handedness by a police force that did not let her family perform her last rites’.”
The court mentioned that the report quoted the father as saying that the woman’s body was released from hospital without them being informed, and denying the police version that the family had said that the timing of the cremation would not matter. The court also cited other media reports regarding the matter.
The Bench instructed officials to ensure no pressure was exerted on the family members of the deceased victim.
The court said that according to reports, the cremation was done “around 2-2.30 am”. It said the family of the deceased follows Hindu traditions, “according to which last rites are not performed after sunset and before day break”.
The judges went on to cite Mahatma Gandhi, saying, “This is a time to strengthen our resolve to live up to the ideas which ‘Bapu’ stood for, but, unfortunately, ground realities are very different from the high values propagated and practised by the Father of our Nation.”
The court said the suo motu PIL would be heard by an appropriate Bench and a record kept of all news items referred by it. It said the media organisations concerned would be requested to produce the relevant material and content on the basis of which they had reported the matter.
The officials summoned by the court on October 12 include the Additional Chief Secretary/Principal Secretary (Home), the DGP, Additional Director General (Law and Order), the Hathras District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police. The officials have been told to present their version of the events with supporting material, and an update on the status of the probe. The Bench also sought a report from the District Judge, Hathras.
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