More than 300 Uttar Pradesh Police personnel, 17 police vehicles, and five barricades. The village of the 19-year-old Dalit woman, who died on September 29 after she was brutally assaulted and allegedly gangraped, has been turned by the state government into a virtual fortress, to ensure no one gets in.
In the village, the family of the 19-year-old told The Indian Express they had been shut inside their home for two days, and that the authorities might be monitoring their phones. “DM-ji aaye aur kaha ki jab media yahan nahin to aapke video kaise viral ho rahe hain (The District Magistrate came and said when the media is not being let in, how are our videos going viral),” the brother said, in a brief and hurried phone conversation. “Lagta hai unhone call detail pe laga diye (It seems they are listening to our phones).”
The first barricades are up roughly 2.5 km from the village, located in Hathras district, blocking three entrances. It is at one of these that Trinamool Congress MPs Derek O’Brien, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Pratima Mandal and former MP Mamata Thakur ran into a wall of police and district officials on Friday.
Around 12.20 pm, as the MPs tried to enter, O’Brien was pushed by officials barring the way, including Joint Magistrate of Hathras Prem Prakash Meena, and fell. “We were shoved by women constables, we requested that only two of us be allowed to go. Mamata Banerjee sent us here and we will be back,” Dastidar said. Meena refused to comment on the episode.
On Thursday, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had been stopped from going to the village.
“We have been asked to ensure that no one enters — media, party leaders, even locals. There is a hospital inside so there is a problem if someone wants to go there. We are letting milk vans go in,” a senior officer told The Indian Express.
While Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir, who was suspended later in the day, and District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar did not respond to calls and messages, IG, Aligarh Range, Piyush Mordia told the media, “Till the time the SIT is present in the district, it is a sensitive matter. As soon as the SIT leaves, the blockade will be lifted and you will be free to visit.”
Policemen wore riot gear and helmets and carried lathis. “Apart from all the police stations of Hathras, police personnel from Mathura, Agra, Aligarh, Kasganj and Etah have been deployed. We have been on 12-hour duty for three days now,” the senior officer said.
The family’s fear that their phones were being monitored came a day after a video surfaced online purportedly featuring DM Laxkar telling them that while it was up to them to “change their statements”, “the administration could change as well”. Laxkar told ANI he had met the family to allay their fears regarding the investigation.
The family said only officials, including the SIT, district authorities and police personnel, were being allowed to meet them.
While The Indian Express made multiple calls on Friday, to the victim’s brothers, aunt, cousins and uncles, only one of the brothers picked up. His phone too was later switched off.
A boy, who claimed to be the victim’s cousin, managed to climb over the barricades on a side road, around 10.30 am. He said, “There are a lot of police inside, especially outside the house. They are asking us not to talk to anyone. The family desperately wants to speak to the media. We haven’t even gone out to shop. There are policemen on the roof as well.”
Around 4 pm, a paternal uncle and aunt of the victim, who came from another village, were stopped. They were allowed in only after the aunt told the police: “We have not been able to speak to the family. We can’t reach their numbers. We are worried.”
The village itself and the area around held at least 250 police personnel. The senior officer said at least four units of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) —around 48 men — were also deployed.
The Indian Express saw at least 12 vehicles of the UP Police, three trucks and two buses of the PAC, and two fire tenders. Occasionally, private and government vehicles with uniformed police personnel were allowed to pass.
A resident of the village, who was at his shop on the outskirts, told The Indian Express: “There are policemen everywhere —in the farms, in each lane, on some terraces too.” He left home at 7 am on Friday instead of the usual 9.30 am to ensure he could open his shop. “We have been told to commute early by the police, they have also told us not to speak to the media… We have been warned not to congregate as Section 144 has been implemented. No one is venturing out; many are getting to know from the news about the heavy deployment.”
Around 3 pm, a lineman was seen trying to convince the policemen to let him in, but in vain.
As it turned dark, there was no let-up in the blockade. A policeman said, “Duty changes at 8 pm. We have been ordered to patrol the village, lanes and farms, and to maintain vigil at night too.”
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