The Uttar Pradesh Police Tuesday booked seven men for allegedly raping and killing a 14-year-old Dalit girl by setting her on fire in Muzaffarnagar district. The body of the girl, police said, was found in a charred state last Friday at her makeshift home near a brick kiln where she worked.
According to police, the postmortem report suggested that she died of asphyxiation and burn injuries. Police said they are yet to make arrests since they are still gathering evidence.
“An FIR has been registered on the basis of a complaint by the victim’s father against the brick kiln owner and six others on charges of gangrape, murder and sections of the SC/ST Atrocities Act. The allegations of rape have not been confirmed. But the investigation is pending and arrests will be made as per evidence,” said the area’s Circle Officer.
According to the girl’s father, he and his wife had gone away from the village Thursday for a day to purchase medicine. They were informed the following morning that their daughter’s body had been found charred to death at their home, after the accused allegedly set her on fire in the night.
Police claimed the family initially did not suspect gangrape but submitted a complaint Sunday against the brick kiln owner and other unnamed accused. The family claimed the girl was raped in their absence and later burnt to death. The girl’s slippers and some clothes were recovered from the spot.
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes has taken cognizance of the case, police said. A statement of the girl’s father will also be recorded before a magistrate.
According to the girl’s father, he had come back to his house from the kiln to tend to his unwell wife. “I had left on Friday evening and my children were in the makeshift room. She slept inside and my son was outside. The administration is trying to make it appear that she died an accidental death but it’s wrong. She was taken by men who work in the area. She was raped and murdered,” he said.
Sources said that a picture of the body taken minutes after it was found showed rope marks on her ankles, suggesting a struggle.
“There was a pile of clothes inside the room. It appears that they set fire to the clothes to make it look like an accident. There is no electricity in the room. Nothing combustible was inside either. How can they say it was fire?” he said.
“Everyone knows what happened, but they are silent. There is immense pressure on anyone who wants to speak out.”
The family lives in the small one-room house and the children do not attend school. “She was responsible for cooking food to help me with my work. I don’t know if they targeted her because of our caste. All I want is justice,” he said.
Members of the Bhim Army, including district chief Kamal Walia, reached the girl’s village and assured justice for the family. “We have told the SSP that we will announce a district-wide bandh if there is no justice. The police are trying to play this matter down. It is a poor Dalit family and we will help them win this fight,” said Walia.