Coming down hard on police and administration officials, the Allahabad High Court has called the late-night cremation of the Hathras woman who died after alleged gang-rape a violation of human rights for which responsibility should be fixed. In its order after Monday’s hearing, the Lucknow bench of the high court warned against “character assassination” of the victim and urged restraint by officials, political parties and the media.
It also pulled up Additional Director General (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar and Hathras District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxkar for suggesting on the basis of a forensic report that the woman was not raped. The division bench of Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Rajan Roy reminded the officials about the “definition” of rape. The court also directed the state government to lay down modalities for cremation in Hathras-like situations.
The 11-page order, dated Monday, was uploaded Tuesday on the high court website. The 19-year-old Dalit woman died at a Delhi hospital a fortnight after her alleged rape by four men from her village in Hathras district on September 14.
She was cremated in the middle of the night in her village.
Family members claimed that the cremation, which took place well past midnight, was without their consent and they were not allowed to bring home the body one last time. The hurried cremation fuelled further outrage over the incident and the high court directed senior officials as well as the victim’s family to appear before it on Monday.
The next hearing in the case is on November 2, when the suspended Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir has also been asked to appear in court. The court said the cremation without following rituals violated the victim's human rights as well as those of her family and relatives.
The administration had argued that the cremation took place in a hurled manner because it feared law and order problems. But the court was not satisfied with the district magistrate’s explanation.
“We do not find any good reason on behalf of the administration as to why they could not hand over the body to the family members for some time, say for even half an hour, to enable them to perform their rituals at home and thereafter to cremate it either in the night or the next day," the bench observed.
"Admittedly, though the administration may not have categorically refused the family members to see the face of the deceased, the fact remains that it was not shown to any of them in spite of their repeated requests," the order added. The court questioned the state government's action only against the then SP and not the DM. SP Vikrant Vir was first transferred out and then suspended.
The court ordered that the probe by a Special Investigation Team or the Central Bureau of Investigation should be kept confidential and not leaked out. It took note of statements which are "affecting and influencing" the investigation.
The bench said officers not directly connected with the investigation should not make any statement in public on the offence as it could lead to unnecessary speculation among people who may not be aware of the niceties of law. The order also cautioned the "over-joyous" media.
“Without intending to interfere with the right of freedom of expression, we request the media as also the political parties to air their views in a manner which does not disturb social harmony and/or infringe upon rights of the victim's family and that of the accused.”
“No one should indulge in character assassination of the victim, just as the accused, should not be pronounced guilty before a fair trial.
The investigating agency and the courts should be allowed to determine these issues," the bench said.
The HC directed the state government to provide adequate security to the victim's family and ensure that no harm is done to them.