Around 7 am, the 28-year-old’s phone rang. It was a call the family had been dreading for days. “It was my father, he said she was dead… Just like that, my sister is gone. We were up all night, praying for her recovery,” he said, crying.
On Tuesday morning, the 19-year-old Dalit woman who had been assaulted and allegedly gangraped by four upper-caste men in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh, on September 14, died at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. Fighting for her life for the past 15 days, with her tongue cut by the assaulters and her spinal cord and neck severely injured, leaving her paralysed in all four limbs, she had been moved from an Aligarh hospital to Delhi the day before.
A senior doctor at Safdarjung Hospital said she had been brought in on Monday at 3.39 pm. At 5.30 am Tuesday, she suffered a cardiac arrest. “She was declared dead at 6.15 am.”
The accused — Sandeep, 20, his uncle Ravi, 35, and their friends Ramu, 26, and Luv Kush, 23 —have been booked on charges of murder, gangrape and under the SC/ST Act. ADG, Law and Order (UP Police), Prashant Kumar said that in 2015, a case of assault had been filed by the victim’s family against Ravi, but due to “witness hostility”, he had got bail.
An initial medical report of the woman confirmed strangulation and assault. Kumar said a medical report by doctors at Aligarh hospital had found evidence regarding rape “inconclusive”, and had sent samples to a forensic laboratory for “further clarity”.
Protesters gathered at the Safdarjung Hospital as the news of the teenager’s death spread. Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad met the woman’s father, while the Congress held protests in Delhi and Lucknow. The family only left with the body for Hathras in the evening, after protesting with officials to meet their demands. The police cordoned off all roads leading to the family’s village.
Waiting for the body of the teenager, the youngest of her five children, at their Hathras home, the woman’s mother cried that she hadn’t been able to be with her in her last moments. “I met her last a few days ago… She said she wanted to come back home, missed her nephews and nieces… Since she had regained consciousness, I thought she would survive.”
The teenager’s parents and two brothers work as farm labourers, while her two sisters are married and live in other villages. “I want them to be publicly hanged… What have they done to my daughter, my family?” cried the mother.
The family had a nearly two-decade-old dispute with Sandeep’s family. Of the 600-odd families in the village, nearly half are Thakur. Brahmins make up another 100, with only 15-odd families Dalit, as per district officials.
The 19-year-old was born the same year as Sandeep’s grandfather was booked under the SC/ST Act and served three months in a prison for allegedly thrashing the victim’s grandfather over a petty issue. The mother claims that the teenager grew up aware of their “status”, never mingling with the upper castes.
Of the five siblings, only the two brothers attended school. The mother said the three girls went to school for only a year or two. “The school is far away… It was unsafe,” she said.
The teenager kept to herself, and was the closest to her sister-in-law, said the family. “Everyone went to the fields to work, and the two of us stayed home. She was fond of making mehndi, drawing rangolis,” said the sister-in-law, a mother of three.
Villagers recall a shy teenager who was mostly seen going to the farm to collect fodder for their animals with her mother — like on the day she was assaulted
Locals said with Sandeep’s family owning a fair amount of land, he hung around not doing much. The family’s home was locked on Tuesday. “Sandeep creates trouble but no one really says anything… He drinks, and we have seen him harass women. Everyone is scared of the family,” said a villager, on condition of anonymity.
In her statement to the police, the woman had said Sandeep had been harassing her for six-seven months. Her sister-in-law said, “We had noticed a change in her behaviour. She seemed scared, hesitant to go out of the house, even to where our cows are kept… But she didn’t open up as to why she was scared.”
A brother said in recent days, she had stopped going to the local market as well, though she loved buying bangles and hair accessories. He added that they were aware they couldn’t aspire for things the upper castes could. “Maybe she was scared of these men. She couldn’t lead a normal life like the other girls, couldn’t go to markets and restaurants.”
On September 14 morning, the teenager and her mother had gone to a field nearby to cut grass for their cows, when the 19-year-old went missing. The four accused allegedly dragged her into the fields, unnoticed by the mother, who is hard of hearing. She discovered her lying covered in blood just 100 metres away.
Hathras DM Praveen Kumar, said, “On September 14, we registered a case of attempt to murder and under the SC/ST Act on the complaint of the victim’s brother. Later, the woman told the police about the rape. We will take the case to a fast-track court.”
with ENS, Delhi
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines