“Ab laut ke toh dobara nahi ayegi…hum apne ghar se hi bidai karna chahte hai!”
She will not return now…we wanted to bid her farewell from our home.
These words, spoken by the inconsolable mother of the woman gang-raped in Hathras in Uttar Pradesh, encapsulate why the nationwide outrage over the sexual assault intensified on Wednesday.
The 19-year-old Dalit woman, who was raped and tortured by four upper-caste men on the night of September 14, died in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on Tuesday morning. At 2.25 am on Wednesday, the state police forcibly cremated her body at a funeral ground in her village, while her family was allegedly barricaded within their home.
The family claimed that they wanted to cremate the woman’s body in the morning, but the police did not allow them to take her home to perform the customary rituals.
The four men accused of raping the woman are from the Thakur community. They have been arrested.
In this video from Aaj Tak, the woman’s mother can be seen telling a reporter that she wanted to take her daughter home for the funeral rites. “We wanted to put haldi [turmeric] on our daughter according to our Hindu rituals,” she said, crying. “She will not return now…we wanted to bid her farewell from our home.”
The protests in Delhi
The controversy over the death of the young woman began on Tuesday itself. She died early on Tuesday, a day after she had been moved from Aligarh’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. The woman had suffered multiple fractures and injuries.
On Tuesday evening, the family alleged that they had not been told where her body was. They claimed that the authorities wanted to dispose of the body discreetly and were trying to force them to return to Hathras. The woman’s father and brother were reportedly taken away by the police. The rest of the family began protesting outside the hospital.
Other activists and citizens also began protesting outside Safdarjung Hospital. In this video, they can be heard shouting slogans like, “Beti ko nyaay do, hatyaro ko phaansi do.” Give justice to our daughter, hang the killers.
Chandrashekhar Azad, the leader of Dalit rights organisation Bhim Army, also joined the protests outside the hospital. Speaking to one reporter, Azad placed the blame for increasing crimes against women and Dalits on the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership. “The country’s daughters need to be saved from BJP officials and politicians,” he said.
By Tuesday night, the police forcibly moved the protestors from outside the hospital and began transporting the woman’s body to Hathras in an ambulance.
When the police and the ambulance reached the woman’s village in of Bool Garhi in Hathras at midnight, around 120 people had already gathered at her house for the funeral. Reporters from the media had also reached the village, and captured the chaos that ensued on video.
On reaching the village, the police first tried to take the body straight to the cremation ground instead of the woman’s home. This led to protests from villagers and her relatives, who blocked the police vehicles and began pleading to the police to let them take the body home first.
The police, however, were dismissive. In this video, a police official can be seen telling the woman’s father, “You will get to see her if you take her home, but we are showing her to you here too.”
The police then did agree to drive the woman’s body home, but told the family they would get just 20 minutes to perform their rituals. The family refused this condition, but the police did not want to let them wait till sunrise for the cremation.
In one video, an official can be seen inside the woman’s house, telling relatives to consult with their elders and agree to cremate the body at night. “Rituals and traditions must change with time,” he said. In the process, he also accused the family of being partially at fault, although it is not clear from the video what this is a reference to.
“Look, this is an extraordinary situation, and you have made some mistakes too, which you have to accept,” he said. “Others also have made mistakes which they have to accept. But now it has happened, the body has come to us, and it has been 12-14 hours since the post mortem. The body has a time [for cremation], think about it. Call your elders and find a solution.”
Eventually, as the family continued to demand their rights, the police deployed a force of around 150 personnel, who formed a human chain around the family’s home to prevent them from going to the cremation ground.
At 2.25 am, the police cremated the woman on a pyre that had already been prepared before the ambulance reached the village.
Later, family members alleged that they had not been allowed to attend the cremation at all. In this video, they can be seen claiming, “[The woman’s] father had spoken to all the relatives and they had decided that all the relations would be called, and in the morning we would do the final rites as per our rituals. But the body is not being given to us and the police is doing what they want.”
In the wake of the controversial funeral, the woman’s mother also recounted the night when her daughter was raped and the manner in which she was brutalised.
In the video, the mother has alleged that her daughter was “dragged into the bajra fields” by four men who attacked her while the mother and daughter were out collecting firewood. “They left her in such a bad state – she was not conscious, she was bleeding everywhere and her tongue was cut off,” the mother said. When asked about the claim of the local police that the woman’s tongue had been been not cut and that her spine was not broken, the mother refuted it. “Her spine was broken, her tongue was cut.”