Hathras: Three inquiries into the rape and murder but we still don’t know how to deal with it 

The CBI, a SIT and the High Court are looking into different aspects of the rape and murder. The SIT’s report is expected on Saturday, October 17. Will the inquiries settle all doubts?

Hathras: Three inquiries into the rape and murder but we still don’t know how to deal with it 

AJ Prabal

Amonth after the gangrape of the 19-year-old woman in Hathras, three inquiries are on to unravel the ‘mystery’. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing if the woman was raped or whether it was merely an attempt to murder her. The central agency is presumably also investigating the charge that it was a case of ‘honour killing’.

Another inquiry is being conducted by a Special Investigating Team (SIT) set up by the Uttar Pradesh Government headed by UP Home Secretary Bhagwan Swaroop. While the SIT was given a week to submit its report by October 7, the state government gave it a 10-day extension. Its brief is to expose the conspiracy to defame the state government and create disturbances in the state. The third inquiry is being conducted by the Allahabad High Court, which is probing why the deceased woman was cremated without the consent of the bereaved family. The next hearing is likely to secure a commitment from the state government to follow a protocol while disposing dead bodies.

The explanation that there were intelligence inputs of massive crowds gathering the next morning forcing the DM and the SP to decide on cremating the body in the night itself, fails to wash. The ambulance carrying the dead body arrived in the village around midnight. By all accounts the body was never taken out of the ambulance, which was parked opposite the deceased’s house for an hour before it was shifted for cremation.

What the family wanted was an opportunity to take the body home, grieve for some time and complete rituals like putting turmeric paste etc. on the body before cremation. They would have liked to cremate the body in the morning and it is not clear why the body could not be cremated at dawn. But this is just one piece of the jigsaw puzzle

Hathras: Three inquiries into the rape and murder but we still don’t know how to deal with it 

Doubts have been raised about the relationship the deceased might have had with the accused. Amit Malviya, BJP’s IT Cell chief and TV channel Times Now claimed that over a hundred calls were exchanged between one of the accused and the brother of the deceased. Media reports suggested that the deceased woman was in a relationship with one of the accused and her unhappy family killed her.

This theory was apparently corroborated by one of the accused in a letter he wrote from prison. On the face of it, the allegation is preposterous. If the family wanted to kill her, they would have killed her at home and presumably at night. They would not have waited for the morning, taken her out to the fields owned by upper caste households between 9 and 10 am and strangulated her there. A criminal lawyer might argue that this was done to implicate the upper caste men. But that too sounds far-fetched.

For one thing, the deceased lived in a large family and did not attend school. Her movement outside home was restricted and in any case relationships in crowded Indian villages seldom remain a secret. Moreover, had the family tried to kill her, the deceased had several opportunities to say so. She did not. On the contrary she was steadfast in naming the accused and said that she tried to resist when the accused forced himself on her.

Her mother claims to have found her naked and bleeding. Her screams brought some urchins and the woman’s brother to the spot. They then threw some garments over the woman and took her on a motorcycle to the police station. All this is not very difficult to confirm. Indeed, several video clips surfaced with the woman narrating what happened to her. Above all, both the allegations about the alleged affair and honour killing were made after the death of the woman. For an entire fortnight, neither the police nor the accused levelled such allegations, raising the strong probability that they were after-thoughts.

What could have caused the injury to her spinal cord? It paralysed her limbs. What caused the injury to her tongue? Could it have been self-inflicted? Who would have stripped her of her undergarments in a field at 10 am? Perhaps nobody. Or perhaps she achieved to do all this on her own. No matter what the police might say, there is little doubt that the tragic case has been mishandled. Charges of rape and molestation continue to be taken casually by the police. Women continue to be accused of loose character. The accused continue to be treated with kid gloves. The investigations continue to be shoddy because police have more serious business to attend to. What has changed? Practically nothing although the laws have undergone changes since 2012, a Nirbhaya Fund was created and sexual offence determination kits developed and distributed to the police.

It is not known if the Hathras Police had access to the kits. The Women and Child Welfare minister Smriti Irani told Parliament in September that around 15 thousand such kits had been distributed across the country. But with such kits lying unused even in the US, according to reports, it will not come as a surprise if the kits were never used in this case.

Even if one accepts the police version that the deceased did not allege rape on September 14 to be true, the fact is that the police knew she was found naked and bleeding. They also knew the name of the accused. It should have been relatively easy to rule out rape on that first day. But the police waited till September 22 to record her statement, when she spoke of four men forcing themselves on her, and took three more days before sending ‘samples’ for forensic examination. Well, if clean clothes, clothes which the victim did not wear on the day of the alleged rape, were sent for examination, for example, the report can be anybody’s guess.

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