More than three months after a 19-year-old Dalit woman was brutalised, allegedly by four upper-caste men in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, the CBI has filed a chargesheet, a stinging indictment of the state government’s — especially its police department’s — handling of the case. Based on the declaration by the victim before she succumbed to her injuries, the report incriminates the four accused and punctures the narrative of the state’s police officials who said that no “gangrape had taken place”. The investigation agency’s observations lay bare the local administration’s malfeasance towards the victim and her family from day one. No woman officer or the station house officer examined her till September 19 – five days after the incident. “Though the victim alleged molestation, her medical examination regarding sexual assault was not conducted,” the chargesheet notes. The medical examination was conducted more than a week after the assault. “This delay”, as a report by the AIIMS’ forensic department, cited by the CBI points out, “could have led to the loss of crucial evidence”.
The CrPC and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs’ “Guidelines for Forensic Medical Examination in Sexual Assault Cases” are clear about the procedures to be followed by the police and administration once there is an allegation of sexual assault: An FIR must be registered, a medical examination of the survivor must be conducted in the presence of a woman medical officer and the police must ensure that a statement of the survivor is recorded by a magistrate. The CBI chargesheet is a sobering testament to the UP police’s failure to adhere to the rulebook. It was only after the woman “explicitly said balatkar (rape)” and named the four accused that she was sent for a medical examination, the chargesheet notes, while calling out “the negligence during the handling of the case by police as well as concerned authorities”.
The UP government has responded to the chargesheet by claiming that it had ordered the CBI investigation in the first place. But the fact remains that in the more than three years that the Yogi Adityanath government has held office, the UP police’s actions have mirrored a political partisan agenda: whether in creating an enabling atmosphere for cow vigilantes, going after anti-CAA protestors, rampant use of draconian NSA, “encounter” deaths, or now using the anti-conversion law to strike at the personal freedoms of young women and men. That’s why, perhaps, in Hathras, the sordid affair continued after the young Dalit woman’s death, with the police cremating her in the dead of night, denying the grieving family the right to perform the last rites. Now that the CBI has stepped in, insulating the investigation and prosecution from political influence is the only way to ensure justice in the rape and murder of a young woman.