A Central Bureau of Investigation team on Tuesday started its inquiry into the gangrape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman by four upper-caste Thakur men in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, a month after the incident took place, PTI reported. The team, which reached the crime scene in Boolgarhi village on Tuesday morning after registering the first information report two days back, questioned the family members of the woman.

Officials said the CBI investigators were accompanied by forensic experts to examine the crime scene. The team visited the millet field, where as per the FIR filed at Chandpa police station, the accused tried to strangle the woman. The victim’s mother was also taken to the spot after she returned home from a brief visit to a hospital, according to NDTV. The team, which left the crime scene after over two hours, also visited the site where the woman was cremated at midnight.

The woman’s brother told reporters that he accompanied the CBI team for three hours as they collected samples and made him sign some papers. He, however, said the officials did not question him. “We can’t say anything about the CBI probe which has just begun,” another brother of the woman told NDTV. “We were asked to recall the sequence of events. We are satisfied with the security arrangements.”

The 15-member CBI team is headed by Deputy Superintendent of Police Seema Pahuja. The investigative agency also augmented its team by assigning four more officers under Superintendent of Police Raghuram Rajan, who is heading the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Ghaziabad.

The CBI’s inquiry began a day after the Allahabad High Court pulled up top Uttar Pradesh government officials, after taking suo motu cognisance of the case and the events leading up to the victim’s cremation.

The court questioned if the case would have been treated differently and if midnight cremation would have been done had the girl, instead of belonging to a poor family, came from a rich one. It also chastised the state government for claiming that the woman was not raped.

The woman’s family was represented by advocate Seema Kushwaha – who was also the legal counsel in the 2012 Delhi gangrape case. Kushwaha said the family had three main requests and all of them were considered by the Allahabad High Court. This includes transferring the case outside Uttar Pradesh, the details of the investigation not be revealed through the media as it “builds a different kind of narrative” and security be ensured for the members till the trial is concluded.

The court will hear the case again on November 2 after the state government requested for additional time to file its replies.

The case

A 19-year-old Dalit woman succumbed to her injuries at a hospital in Delhi on September 29 after four upper caste Thakur men raped and tortured her on September 14. The four accused in the case have been arrested. However, Sandeep Thakur, the main accused, has written to the state police chief from jail claiming that the men are being framed. He had also claimed that the woman was victim of honour killing as her family was opposed to their “friendship”.

The Uttar Pradesh administration has consistently denied that the woman was raped, based on a report from the forensic lab that had said there were no traces of sperm in samples taken from her. However, the chief medical officer at Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College – where the woman was admitted – said the forensic lab’s 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. The autopsy report of the woman had showed that she was strangled and suffered a cervical spine injury. The final diagnosis did not mention rape, but had pointed out that there were tears in her genitalia and there had been “use of force”.

On October 3, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath had recommended a CBI inquiry as protests erupted in several parts of India. The state government had also requested the Supreme Court to direct a CBI investigation not only into the woman’s gangrape but also into the case relating to an alleged criminal conspiracy to spread caste conflict by sections of media and political parties. The state police have also filed 19 first information reports in Hathras against unidentified persons for allegedly attempting to incite caste-based conflict.

The Central Bureau of Investigation on October 10 took over the inquiry into the case.

A three-judge bench in the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A Bobde, while hearing a petition seeking a CBI or a Special Investigation Team inquiry monitored by sitting or retired judges, did not pass any directions in this regard on October 6. The court, however, called the incident “extraordinary” and “shocking”. It had also asked the Uttar Pradesh government to file a response on its witness protection plan and whether the family of the victim has access to a lawyer. The matter will be heard this week.