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Opinion | Hathras case: Let the CBI and courts do their job

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the UP government to come up with an affidavit stipulating a witness protection plan for the Hathras victim’s family and other witnesses in the gruesome gangrape-murder case.

Rajat Sharma Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive
New Delhi Published on: October 06, 2020 16:05 IST
Opinion | Hathras case: Let the CBI and courts do their job
Image Source : INDIA TV

Opinion | Hathras case: Let the CBI and courts do their job

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the UP government to come up with an affidavit stipulating a witness protection plan for the Hathras victim’s family and other witnesses in the gruesome gangrape-murder case. The state government has been asked to tell whether the family has chosen a lawyer to represent them. The hearing will resume after a week.

Chief Justice of India S A Bobde said: “We want to know if victim’s family has chosen an advocate. We also want suggestion from you (Solicitor General Tushar Mehta) as to the scope of Allahabad High Court proceedings (due on October 12) and how we can make them more relevant. We want it on record that a witness protection plan is already in force.”

The Solicitor General, appearing on behalf of the UP government, wanted that the apex court should monitor the CBI probe into the Hathras incident. “Let us not sensationalize the death of a young girl, and let the investigation be fair and impartial”, Tushar Mehta said.

The Chief Justice of India described the Hathras incident as “horrible and shocking”. The bench consisting of CJI Bobde, Justice A S Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanium is hearing the matter. Hours before the apex court began hearing on the PIL,  the UP government filed a 16-page affidavit defending its action in carrying out a hurried cremation of the victim in her village.

The state government in its affidavit alleged that some politicians and media personnel allegedly instigated the victim’s family members and there were violent protests because of which the cremation was done at night “in the presence of family members”.

The state government said, “the extraordinary circumstances and sequence of unlawful incidents forced the district administration to take the extraordinary step of cremating the victim at night in presence of the family members, who agreed to avoid further violence.”

The state government alleged in its affidavit that there was “insidious propaganda” by some political parties and section of the media to malign the government, using social media and protests as their tool. It also alleged that there was “a planned attempt to incite communal and caste riots using the Hathras incident, and therefore, it would be appropriate if the Supreme Court supervise the CBI probe in a time-bound manner.” The affidavit said, “monitoring by the Supreme Court will ensure false narratives do not interfere with the course of the probe.”

The state government also pointed out that “the victim did not mention rape in her first statement to the police and that she alleged rape in her second statement after which all the four accused were arrested.”

For the last several days, I have gone through scores of tapes and watched statements of the victim, her parents and police officers about the gang-rape incident and also about the sordid manner in which the body was cremated at night. Several senior UP police officials spoke to me about this incident, and they offered logic to justify the manner in which the Hathras police dealt with the matter.

Let me list their arguments, one by one.

First, the incident took place at around 10.30 am and the parents came with the victim to the police station. A case was registered and the victim was first sent to the district hospital and by 2 pm she was admitted to AMU medical college hospital. On the first day, according to police, the victim did not mention rape in her statement, because of which the doctors did not carry out tests relating to sexual assault.

I have seen the video of the victim lying on the verandah in front of the hospital. The 19-year-old girl was groaning in pain, and two policemen were taking statement from her parents. I also watched another video of the victim lying on a stretcher in the hospital. She was groaning and with much difficulty, she said about “zabardasti” (Hindi colloquial term for rape) done to her by the accused. The victim was saying, “chot isliye lagi, gardan isliye tooti, kyunki maine Sandeep ko apne saath zabardasti nahin karne di” (I suffered injuries, my neck was broken because I was resisting Sandeep from raping  me).

My question to UP police officials is: what will a rape victim say, more than this? Is ‘zabardasti’ with a woman not rape? Well, the anti-rape law is clear on this point. It is my firm belief that the Hathras police made the first mistake by not registering a rape case in the beginning. This was Negligence Number One.

The UP police officials said, the victim mentioned rape eight days after the incident, and immediately the police added rape charge to the FIR. The medical test was done eleven days after the incident. Every policeman knows that no conclusive evidence of rape will come if the medical test is done 96 hours after the incident. Whom were the police trying to fool? This was Negligence Number Two. It was because of this that the intent of police came under suspicion.

Point number three. Senior police officials have said that the girl’s mother changed her statement thrice. According to them, she first said, her daughter was strangulated. She then said, a rape was used to strangle her. She again changed her statement and said that a ‘dupatta’ was used to strangulate her. My take on this is: how does it matter how the victim was strangulated? How does it matter whether she was strangled with bare hands, or a rope, or a dupatta? The bitter truth is that the girl lost her life because of spinal injury caused when the accused tried to strangulate her. This was Negligence Number Three.

Fourth point: Why didn’t UP police shift her to Delhi when they found that she was groaning with pain because of spinal injury? Police officials say the girl’s family was initially unwilling to shift her to Delhi for treatment. Even if I assumed that the police is telling the truth, my question is: If the police was so much concerned about respecting the views of the victim’s family, then why did it whisk away the body in the dead of night from Safdarjang Hospital, ignoring desperate pleas of her mother, who sat in front of the ambulance? Why didn’t police agree to allow the family to cremate the body at dawn?

I have seen the video of the girl’s mother banging her head in front of the ambulance and pleading to police to allow her to take the body to her home for putting ‘haldi’ (turmeric) on her hands and body (a ceremonial rite done at the time of funeral).  If we believe what the UP police says, would rioters have congregated in the village at the time of cremation? That too, in the dead of night? This was Negligence Number Four.

UP police officials have some more arguments too. They claim that there was personal enmity between the victim’s family and the family of the accused. The incident was a fallout of those family quarrels. Police also claim that all the four accused were arrested, when the victim named them. All these do not make any sense now because the fact remains that a 19-year-old girl was sexually assaulted, tortured, and she died in pain after battling death for two weeks. It is also a fact that her body was cremated in the dead of night, without the consent of the family members.

Let me repeat that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has done the right thing in ordering a CBI probe, and the state police must now stop trying to cover up. The state government has already suspended five police officers, but the Hathras DM, on whose orders the police forcibly cremated his body, still remains in his post. Why was no action taken against the DM? India TV reporter spoke to Inspector Sanjeev Sharma of Hathras, who admitted on camera that whatever was done of the night of cremation was because of “orders from above”. If action was taken against those who followed orders, then the question arises: why was no action taken against the person who gave these orders.

The head of the Trauma Centre of AMU Medical College Hospital Dr Azeem Malik has said that an FSL report on sample taken eleven days after the incident can never give a conclusive finding about sexual assault. According to him, as  per government guidelines, such a medical test is done within 96 hours (four days) of the incident in order to get a conclusive evidence. The claim of the UP police that there was no evidence of rape, does not hold water.

To sum up: Gross negligence on part of local police, arrogance and abrasiveness of district administration officials, lack of sensitivity towards the victim’s family, all combined together played havoc with the life of a 19-year-old teenager. The Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court took suo motu cognizance of the matter and referred to my news show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ in its order, and now the matter is before the Supreme Court.

I have full confidence that the daughter of Hathras will get justice, but till the time the courts give her justice, it is the responsibility of our society to empathize with the victim’s parents and family members, offer them solace and give them strength to face the challenge in law courts.

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