The Jharkhand High Court on Thursday pulled up the state police for its poor investigation in the case of a 15-year-old girl who was burnt to death, saying that “Hathras is not only in Uttar Pradesh but also in Jharkhand”, Live Law reported. The court was also referring to the gangrape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, sparking national outrage.

In Jharkhand, a man had poured kerosene on the girl on March 30 in Giridih district. He had tried to escape but was caught by the girl’s family.

A bench of Justice Ananda Sen, while hearing a writ petition filed by the girl’s father, noted that there had been several gaps in the investigation.

“The first information report was registered on 31/3/2020. The police visited the place of occurrence and prepared the inquest report on that date…The next date of investigation, which finds place in the case diary is April 4, that is after four days when the IO [investigating officer] records the statement of the two seizure list witnesses. The next date in the case diary is 22 April 2020, that is after more than 16 days. Nothing was done by the IO in between.”

— Justice Ananda Sen

Sen also rebuked the authorities for delay in sending the girl’s sample for forensic examination, according to Bar and Bench.

“It is worthwhile to mention here that Doctor opined that the vaginal swab should be sent to FSL [Forensic Science Laboratory], Ranchi for examination. The next date of activity of the Investigating Officer is 5th May 2020, which is more than 14 days. On that day he obtains permission from the court to send the swab to the FSL. On next day, i.e. 6th May 2020, the I.O. obtains a letter from the hospital to send the swab to the laboratory. Surprisingly rather shockingly the swab was sent to the laboratory only on 20th May 2020 i.e. after 14 days. In the entire case diary there is no explanation about the delay caused. This is how an investigation is going on of a most heinous crime.”  

— Justice Ananda Sen

The judge said that the girl’s postmortem report showed that she had sustained 100% burns and yet the investigation in the case had been casual, PTI reported.

Sen added that the court cannot “keep its eyes shut” and ignore “lacklustre and shoddy” investigation. “This heinous incident needs immediate investigation to bring to light the correct fact and to book the accused,” he said. “The way this investigation proceeded is absolutely unsatisfactory.”

The judge ordered the formation of a Special Investigation Team to handle the case.

In the Hathras case too, the conduct of the Uttar Police has come under intense scrutiny. The sequence of events around the crime and the hasty cremation by authorities have also raised doubts whether this was done to suppress medical evidence of sexual assault.

On September 14, four upper caste Thakur men had brutally raped and tortured the woman, who succumbed to her injuries on September 29. The Uttar Pradesh administration had then hurriedly cremated her body against her family’s wishes while they had been locked inside their home, leading to an outpouring of anger and protests across the country.

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Uttar Pradesh government, on the other hand, claimed that the midnight cremation was done to avoid large-scale violence in the district. Besides the alleged gangrape and assault case, the government also sought a CBI probe into the FIR related to the alleged criminal conspiracy to spread caste conflict, instigate violence and incidents of “vicious propaganda by sections of media and political interests”.

The government had told the Allahabad High Court that there were no signs suggestive of rape in the case, citing a forensic report that said there were no traces of sperm in samples taken from the woman. But the chief medical officer at Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College – where the woman was first admitted – had negated this, saying the report “holds no value” as it relied on samples taken 11 days after the crime was committed. Experts have also pointed out that since the samples for the test were collected many days after the crime was committed, sperm would not be present.