From the time her body left Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital at 9.30 pm on Tuesday to a hurried cremation in a Hathras village 200 km away at 3.30 am on Wednesday — the final journey of the 19-year-old who was assaulted and allegedly gangraped by four upper caste men was marked by a disregard to protocol and heavy handedness by a police force that did not let her family perform her last rites.
The 19-year-old Dalit woman died at 6.55 am on Tuesday at Safdarjung Hospital, where she had been shifted from Aligarh on Monday night as her condition had deteriorated. Her post-mortem was conducted during the day. What transpired after:
9.30 pm: As the body was released and left for Hathras in an ambulance, the family told The Indian Express they were not informed. Instead, accompanying the body in the vehicle was an Uttar Pradesh Police constable, apart from the driver. The father said, “We had been waiting all day to take her home, do the rituals, the last rites… The police did not inform us deliberately.
Authorities at Safdarjung refused to comment. An official said on condition of anonymity: “In a medico-legal case, the body is handed over to the police following the post-mortem. It is then the job of the police to hand it over to the family following a verification process. That’s what was done in this case.”
Meanwhile, even as the body was on its way, the district authorities and police started preparations at the woman’s village for a late-night funeral — logs of wood were arranged, lights of the cremation ground switched on and the road to the victim’s home heavily barricaded.
Roughly half an hour after the ambulance left, the woman’s brother and father started for the village in a government vehicle, escorted by District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar and Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir.
The SP claimed that after the post-mortem, the body was handed over to the family. “The administration only provided logistical support to transport the body. In fact, the father told me more than once that the time the cremation was done would not matter.”
However, the father said, there was hardly any conversation on the way to the village. “There was just silence; we were so overwhelmed.”
12 pm-1 am: By the time the ambulance reached the village, at least three layers of barricades had been put up between the main road and the victim’s home, and the area was swarming with the police. As the ambulance stopped at a layer of barricades, around 100 metres from the woman’s home and an equal distance from the cremation ground, her family and locals approached the vehicle, asking that it pull up to her house so that her body could be taken inside.
This, local residents and the authorities say, was the first point of flare-up, with an official acknowledging on condition of anonymity that there were instructions to wrap up the cremation at night to prevent a “law and order situation” in the morning.
“The ambulance headed straight to the cremation spot… My mother fell on their feet, the women from the family cried on the bonnet, we folded our hands… My mother said let me put haldi on her, let me take her home one last time… But no one heard us,” said the woman’s brother.
Apart from DM Laxkar and SP Vir, the officials present at the spot were Additional SP Prakash Kumar; Sadabad Circle Officer Bhram Singh; Ramshabd Circle Officer, City, Surendra Rao; Circle Officer Sikandarao; and Joint Magistrate Prem Prakash Meena. Besides, 200 personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary and forces from all 11 police stations of the area were deployed, over two shifts.
1 am-3.30 am: With the family refusing to cremate the body and the district authorities and police officers adamant, the conversation became heated. Said the victim’s brother: “At one point, police personnel got aggressive and pushed, kicked some relatives who were trying to intervene. That’s when we became so scared that we locked ourselves in… We were afraid we would be lathicharged,” the brother
He added that all of them stayed inside — his parents, brother, sisters and other relatives. “For two hours, we weren’t even sure that my sister had been cremated.”
Joint Magistrate Meena, however, blamed the impasse on “outsiders”. “Unfortunately, several persons who did not belong to the family came close to the house of the victim, and there was a general lack of consensus within the family… It was after giving the family ample time that we proceeded with the cremation.” The pyre was lit a little before 3 am.
To counter the family’s claims that they were not involved in the cremation, the UP Police showed a video of three men throwing wood into the fire. DM Laxkar told The Indian Express, “The funeral was carried out by the family members. Senior officials oversaw the entire process and it was done with their consent. The news circulating otherwise is baseless.”
However, one of the men in the video, the woman’s paternal uncle, told The Indian Express he had been “coerced” to attend. The 40-year-old said, “We were outnumbered by the police… They said we have to attend; they didn’t give us an option. We were scared. If they wanted to include family members, they could have allowed the brother and father, but they chose who they wanted.”
Asked if there was any paperwork at the time of the cremation, a district official said the father had signed on the release papers for the body at Safdarjung, which were sufficient to carry out the last rites. He said a death certificate would be prepared later. The woman’s father said he was under the impression that his assent had been asked for only for the post-mortem and for the body to be released from the hospital.
Talking to the media in Lucknow, Additional Director General (ADG), Law and Order, Prashant Kumar said, “The cremation was done in the presence of family members and with their agreement… The body was decomposing and that is why the family members agreed that cremating it late night itself would be better.” He added that they were yet to receive the postmortem report, and will decide further actions based on it.
3.30 am: Still afraid to leave their home, the girl’s brother told The Indian Express, “It appears my sister has been cremated, the police aren’t telling us anything. Why are they doing this?”
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