The Uttar Pradesh Police on Friday turned the district of Hathras into a virtual fortress as hundreds of policemen guarded the district’s borders and put up barricades about two kilometres from the village to prevent anyone from entering the area, The Indian Express reported.
The village of the 19-year old Dalit girl, who was gang-raped, brutally assaulted and left to die by four upper-caste men, was flooded with over 300 policemen who came in 17 police vehicles.
The woman’s family alleged their phones have been confiscated and they have been virtually placed under house arrest, with their outdoor movements confined, the Hindustan Times reported. “The police have occupied our house,” a cousin of the deceased woman said. “They have even taken positions on the terrace.”
Policemen in riot gear and welding lathis patrolled the village throughout the day. “Apart from all the police stations of Hathras, police personnel from Mathura, Agra, Aligarh, Kasganj and Etah have been deployed, a senior officer told The Indian Express. The senior officer said at least four units of the Provincial Armed Constabulary – around 48 men – were also deployed.
The woman’s brother said they feared their phones were tapped, after a secretly recorded video of Hathras District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar showed him issuing a veiled threat to the Dalit woman’s father, asking him to soften his stance about the case.
The father has accused the Adityanath-led dispensation of putting pressure on them to go to the local police station and sign a document saying they were “satisfied by the police probe” in the case.
“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 told The Indian Express. “Lagta hai unhone call detail pe laga diye [It seems they are listening to our phones].”
Later an audio clip also surfaced of a conversation between the brother and an India Today reporter. A political controversy has erupted over it, with the Bharatiya Janata Party claiming the clip showed how the media was “misreporting” facts about the case and was coercing false statements out of the woman’s family.
But the family alleged they have been trapped inside their houses against their wishes. The woman’s cousin, who managed to escape from the house by climbing over barricades, told journalists that the police had surrounded their house on all sides. “They are asking us not to talk to anyone,” he said. “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.”
An unidentified villager told the Hindustan Times the police was not even allowing the family to visit the toilet. “The women of the house are finding it difficult to visit the toilet with policemen standing right outside,” the villager said. He said he escaped from the village on the pretext of meeting a doctor as the police was not allowing other villagers to step out either.
The relatives of the family who came from another village also faced trouble accessing them. “We have not been able to speak to the family,” the woman’s paternal uncle, who tried visiting them, told The Indian Express. “We can’t reach their numbers. We are worried.”
The police has taken extraordinary measures to place Hathras under a virtual lockdown.
On Thursday, the Hathras authorities had clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which bars assembly of more than four people. A day later, police announced that no politician or media person will be allowed entry into the woman’s village in Hathras until the Special Investigation Team formed by the Uttar Pradesh government completes its investigation.
In the midst of this, when politicians of various parties tried to visit the family, they were allegedly mishandled. Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien was pushed to the ground by the Uttar Pradesh Police, while other MPs from the party alleged they were touched and misbehaved with. On Thursday, the police filed a case against Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, hours after they were detained on their way to Hathras.
Meanwhile, a protest was organised by the members of an upper-caste community in Uttar Pradesh in support of the four men who are accused of raping and assaulting the Dalit women, The Times of India reported.
Visuals showed hundred of men gathered together in support of the accused. They demanded a fair inquiry in the case and accused political parties of “indulging in petty politics”.
Four upper-caste men raped and brutally assaulted the woman in Hathras on September 14. The woman died in New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital in the early hours of Tuesday. The woman suffered multiple fractures, a spinal injury and a deep cut in her tongue.
The police then took her body to a field and cremated it in the dead of the night, against the family’s wishes. The hasty manner in which this was done, with the woman’s family locked up in their houses, has raised doubts about whether the cremation was done to suppress medical evidence of sexual assault. The fact that the family was denied the dignity to perform the last rites of the woman has also sparked outrage.
A day later, the police claimed that the woman’s forensic report showed she was not raped. They claimed the woman’s postmortem report showed she died of neck injuries. Experts, however, pointed out that since the samples for the test were collected days after the crime, sperm would not be present.
The high-handedness of the authorities in handling the case has evoked widespread public anger and grief, sparking countrywide protests. The case has also become emblematic of rising instances of sexual crimes and violence against Dalit women under Chief Minister Adityanath’s government.
Amid countrywide outrage over the case, Chief Minister Adityanath had on Wednesday formed a three-member SIT, which was instructed to submit its report by October 14. On Friday, he suspended Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir and four other police officers.