Under fire for its handling of the murder and cremation of a 19-year-old Dalit teenager in Hathras, the Uttar Pradesh government Friday suspended three police officers, including Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir. A government spokesperson said polygraph and narco tests would be conducted on the accused, the victim’s relatives and even police officers involved in the probe.
This came a day after the Allahabad High Court took suo motu cognizance of the case and directed senior officials of the state government and police to be present at a hearing on October 12 and explain the sequence of events that led to the cremation and the family’s complaints regarding the manner in which it was done.
It also came amidst a chorus of outrage against the Yogi Adityanath government for cordoning off the teenager’s village, turning away, among others, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Thursday, and Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien on Friday.
The government said the SP was being suspended for “negligence and lax supervision of the case”. The other police officers suspended, following a report by the Special Investigation Team probing the case, include Circle Officer (CO) Ram Shabd, SHO of the police station concerned Dinesh Kumar Verma, Senior Sub-Inspector Jagveer Singh and Head Constable Mahesh Pal. The SIT had been set up after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Adityanath, following reports on the cremation.
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The CM tweeted Friday afternoon that his government was determined to ensure the “safety and development” of women. “In UP, the destruction of those who merely think of harming the honour and respect of mothers and sisters is definite. The punishment given to them will be quoted as exemplary in the future. Your UP government is determined to ensure the safety and development of each mother and sister. This is our oath and a promise,” he wrote.
The government said polygraph and narco tests will be conducted on “all people on the accused and victim side”, apart from “police officers involved in the case and other persons related to the case”.
Shamli Superintendent of Police Vineet Jaiswal will be posted as Hathras SP.
Questioning the suspensions, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi tweeted, “On whose order was the Hathras victim and her family made to suffer? The call records of Hathras SP and DM should be made public… Yogi Adityanath, resign.”
The administration’s role has been under a cloud since the woman’s body was released from Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi after her death, 15 days after she was assaulted, allegedly by four upper caste men.
The officials involved in key administrative and law and order decisions since then include:
Hathras SP Vikrant Vir: A 2014-batch Uttar Pradesh cadre officer, he took charge in June this year. He was earlier Unnao SP. In December last year, a 23-year-old woman had been burnt alive in Unnao, allegedly by men who had gangraped her, while she was on her way to court for a hearing. The family had alleged that the SP had not let them have a last look at her body. In the Hathras case, it has been alleged that the SP did not inform the family when the body was released by Safdarjung Hospital and sent to her village with a police escort.
Vir was present when the woman was cremated around 3 am on Wednesday, even as her family remained locked inside their home. He claimed, “The family was involved in the last rites and we had been in constant touch with them. It happened with their consent. In fact we brought the ambulance till their house… but the family could not reach a consensus (on the cremation).”
District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar: A 2012-batch IAS officer, he took charge in March 2019. He was earlier posted in Rae Bareli, Aligarh, Lalitpur and Lucknow in various administrative positions, and Hathras was his first posting as a DM. In March this year, Laxkar had made news for banning reciting of azaan across mosques in the district citing the Home Ministry’s Covid protocols. The decision had been overturned by the Allahabad High Court, saying azaan ” cannot be hindered under the pretext of violation of the guidelines… to contain the pandemic”.
Laxkar was present with Vir when the body was released from Safdarjung. The family said he had denied them access to the body one last time. Laxkar claimed the cremation was carried out with the family’s permission.
On Thursday, a video had surfaced on social media of him purportedly telling the woman’s family members in Hindi to not lose their “vishwasniyata (credibility)”, and that while it was up to them to change their statements, “kabhi hum bhi badal yaayen (the administration could change as well)”. He had told ANI, “I deny the negative rumours which are rife about my interactions with them… Their (the family’s) main point of apprehension is that the convicted be punished and hanged to death. I tried to allay their fears and told them that the matter would be tried in a fast-track court.”
Joint Magistrate Prem Prakash Meena: A 2018-batch officer, he had been posted briefly in Basti before being moved to Hathras. He was present at the cremation, and in videos, can be seen at a barricade a few metres away, preventing people from proceeding to the site.
Meena had told The Indian Express, “The cremation was carried out with the consent of the family and. in fact, we allowed them a lot of time to carry out the rituals. There was confusion and the outsiders who were present prevented proceedings from being conducted smoothly.”
On Friday, he was among the officials who pushed as Trinamool MP O’Brien as he tried to make his way to the village, causing him to fall. Meena denied doing so.
ADG, Law and Order, Prashant Kumar: One of the most senior officers in the UP Police, he was earlier ADG, Zone Meerut. In 2018, he had dropped flower petals on some Kanwariyas while doing an aerial survey of one of the processions. In December last year, he was in-charge when anti-CAA protests led to the death of seven in Meerut and Muzaffarnagar.
At a press conference on Thursday, Kumar said the forensic report of the Hathras victim ruled out rape, as it found no semen. This, despite the victim’s statement before death that she had been raped. The ADG claimed that the media had circulated wrong information. “We will identify those who were trying to create a misinformed situation and will take action.”
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