The Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court to monitor the Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the gangrape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman by four upper-caste Thakur men in Hathras district, NDTV reported. It also requested the Supreme Court to direct the CBI to submit fortnightly status reports on the investigation to the state government.

The CBI visited the crime scene in Boolgarhi village in Hathras on Tuesday after taking over the inquiry from the special investigation team of the Uttar Pradesh Police. The woman’s brother and mother were also taken to the spot and the 15-member investigative team left after over two hours. The team has summoned the father and the two brothers of the woman for questioning again on Wednesday, according to ANI.

A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A Bobde had on October 6 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 had access to a lawyer. The matter will be heard on Thursday.

In its affidavit on Wednesday, the Adityanath-led government informed the court that it has deployed adequate forces to protect the woman’s family and witnesses, according to Live Law. The state home department assured that the government is committed to protect the family members and others for a free and fair investigation in the case.

“Government has also installed 8 CCTVs to ensure 24 hours surveillance/observation of the premises. The entire security staff deployed at the village has been strictly instructed to ensure that there is no intrusion in the privacy of the victim’s family /witnesses and that they are free to move and meet the people they want.”

— Uttar Pradesh government in affidavit to SC

The home department also provided the court a detailed chart of the overall security personnel that have been deployed for witness protection in Hathras district.

Police personnel stand guard in Hathras on Tuesday as CBI officials investigate the death of a 19-year-Dalit woman, who was raped and tortured by four upper caste men. [Credit: PTI]

Allahabad HC says cremation violated rights of victim, family

Meanwhile, more details from the Allahabad High Court hearing on Monday have emerged, The Hindu reported. The court took suo motu cognisance of the case and the events leading up to the victim’s cremation. A bench of Justices Pankaj Mithal and Rajan Roy recorded the statements of the family members.

The woman’s parents accused the district magistrate and the police of neither allowing them a last glimpse of their daughter’s body nor permission to be present at the cremation site.

The court said the government’s decision to cremate the woman in the middle of the night, even though done in the name of the law and order situation, was prima facie an infringement upon the human rights of the victim and her family. “The victim was at least entitled to decent cremation in accordance with her religious customs and rituals, which essentially are to be performed by her family,” it said.

The Lucknow bench also pulled up Additional Director General (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar, asking him if it was proper conduct for someone not connected with the investigation to comment about it. Kumar had 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, after the court pulled him up, he agreed that this should not have happened.

“No officer who was not directly connected with the investigation should make any statement in public regarding commission of the offence alleged or otherwise based on evidence collected,” the court said in its order.

The judges ordered that the inquiry in the case should be kept in full confidentiality and no report or post of it should be leaked in public. This, the court said, could lead to “unnecessary speculation and confusion amongst the masses, who may not be aware of niceties of law, thereby fuelling emotions on both sides”.

The court also requested the media to not air views which can disturb communal harmony or infringe upon rights of the victim’s family and that of the accused.

“If considerations of maintenance of law and order are pitted against such valuable rights, the situation needs to be handled deftly and responsibly with a proper appreciation of both the aspects as such valuable rights cannot be trampled or trifled casually or whimsically, especially when those likely to be deprived are of the downtrodden class, uneducated and poor.”

— Allahabad High Court
Women hold placards during a protest after the death of a rape victim on a street in Mumbai, India. [Credit: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

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, saying that Forensic Science Laboratory report did not find semen in the victim’s body. 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.