Protests and candle marches were held in several parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal and Maharashtra on Wednesday after news reports claimed that the Uttar Pradesh Police "forcibly" cremated the body of the Hathras rape victim in the dead of the night on Tuesday.
The reports also elicited angry responses on social media, and from Opposition leaders in the state who sought Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's resignation over the issue. The Opposition also alleged that the the 'forced' cremation of the 19-year-old Dalit girl was "an attempt to destroy evidence".
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took suo motu cognisance of the gangrape and sent notices to the chief secretary of the state government and the Uttar Pradesh Deputy General of Police.
Some politicos also questioned the government over safety of women in the state while the Left parties highlighted rise in crimes against Dalits and women.
A report from Hathras said tempers also ran high in the victim's village when Panchayti Raj Minister Bhupendra Chaudhary, who is also in-charge of the district, reached there along with the local MP, MLA and other BJP leaders. Besides justice for the victim and capital punishment to the culprits, the locals also demanded a transfer of district officials.
The 19-year-old Dalit woman was raped in a village in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras by four men on 14 September. According to PTI, she had gone to the fields with her mother, where the accused allegedly abducted her. She was found badly injured in nearby fields. The girl had been beaten and tortured so badly that she had bitten on her own tongue in pain when the accused attempted to strangle her.
She was first admitted to Aligarh Muslim University's Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital and then shifted to the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi on Monday after her condition deteriorated. She succumbed to her injuries in Delhi on Tuesday.
Local police officers told PTI that the cremation was carried out "as per the wishes of the family". However the family of the rape victim alleged that the police forced them to perform the last rites.
Opposition demands Adityanth's resignation
Taking to Twitter, Samajwadi Party chief and former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav lashed out at the Adityanath government over the cremation of the rape victim, accusing it of "destroying evidence".
"This act of destroying evidence is condemnable," he tweeted.
"The BJP government not only committed a sin by doing so but also committed a crime," he added.
The Left parties too hit out at the UP government stating that the cremation without her family's consent was "blatant denial of justice and exposed the prevalence of caste-based violence in the state".
In a press statement, the Politburo of the CPM said the "barbaric caste-based rape" was "reflective of the utter lawlessness" in the northern state.
"The CPM strongly condemns the actions of the Adityanath Government on the blatant denial of justice to the Hathras dalit rape victim and her family. Her death is the result of the callous approach of the Government," the statement said.
"The victim was grievously injured in the barbaric rape crime committed by four upper caste men on 14 September, her tongue was cut out, she was bleeding profusely but the police refused to file an FIR for five days, denied the victim the immediate medical treatment which could have saved her and in the ultimate act of caste cruelty, the police cremated her body, denying the family the right to give their daughter a dignified funeral," it said.
The CPM Politburo alleged that under the BJP government, patronage given to casteist and reactionary forces was leading to a big increase in crimes against Dalits and women.
The party demanded action against the police personnel who reportedly refused to file an FIR in the case, and against those responsible for the 'forced cremation' of the victim.
CPI general secretary D Raja, in a separate statement, said according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, in the past few years crimes against Dalits are on the rise and at the same time the convictions rates have substantially declined.
The official statistics further indicate that UP is leading in crimes against Dalits especially Dalit women, he said.
The woman's death was "one more instance laying bare the violence of caste society and the absolute humiliation engendered by the ideology of Brahmanical Patriarchy", Raja said.
"Her death poses a deep moral question upon the Indian society which even after seven decades of the formal establishment of the modern democratic republic continues to be organised and operating through the archaic, irrational and violent caste collectives. While the four upper caste perpetrators have been arrested, this entire incident draws attention to the deplorable situation prevailing in Uttar Pradesh under Adityanath," he said.
The CPI demanded that Adityanath steps down as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, saying he has no "moral right" to continue on the post.
Tagging Adityanath in a tweet, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi too demanded Adityanath's resignation. "There is no justice in your rule, only injustice," she tweeted.
In a video statement posted on her Twitter account, Priyanka also slammed Adityanath for making a statement 15 days after the incident.
"After 15 days, he (Adityanath) has made a statement and what does he say that 'PM called and I have constituted an SIT'. Were you waiting for the PM's phone call, you could not do anything for 15 days, you did not provide her treatment, did not take her to a good hospital, she was brought to Delhi only day before yesterday," the Congress general secretary said.
"What kind of treatment has been meted out to the family of the victim as they could not even take the body of their daughter home for one last time, her father could not light her funeral pyre and he was locked up in a room," she alleged.
"This is the biggest example of how inhuman your government is. What all is happening in Uttar Pradesh and you are not taking responsibility... Is there no concern for women's security in your state? Will you not take responsibility, what kind of a chief minister are you?" Priyanka said.
Earlier, in a series of tweets, the Congress general secretary in-charge of UP said, "I was on the phone with the Hathras victim's father when he was informed that his daughter had passed away. I heard him cry out in despair."
"He had just been telling me that all he wanted was justice for his child. Last night, the victim's father was robbed of the chance to take his daughter home for the last time and perform her last rites," she said.
Tagging Adityanath in a tweet, the Congress leader said, "RESIGN. Instead of protecting the victim and her family, your government became complicit in depriving her of every single human right, even in death. You have no moral right to continue as chief minister."
In another tweet in Hindi, she alleged that at 2.30 am on Wednesday, the "victim's kin kept requesting", but the Uttar Pradesh administration "forcibly" cremated the woman.
"The government did not protect her when she was alive. The government did not provide her timely treatment when she was attacked. After her death, the government took away the right of the family to perform the last rites of their daughter and did not respect the deceased," Priyanka said.
Hitting out at the UP chief minister, she alleged, "Gross inhumanity. You did not stop the crime but behaved like criminals. You did not stop the atrocities, but committed atrocity on an innocent child and her family twice."
UP CM sets up SIT to probe case
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Wednesday constituted a three-member SIT to probe the gang-rape case and also asked for conducting the trial in a fast-track court.
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" Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) September 30, 2020
In a tweet, the chief minister's office said the prime minister spoke to Adityanath over the case. "Respected Prime Minister @narendramodi Ji has spoken on the Hathras incident and said that strict action should be taken against the culprits," the CMO said.
Meanwhile, a PIL in the Supreme Court has sought investigation by CBI or SIT headed by a sitting or retired judge into the Hathras gangrape. A plea has also sought direction to transfer the case from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi. The chief minister also spoke to the father of the rape victim and assured him of stringent action against all the accused, a senior official said.
According to reports, the UP government has also announced Rs 25 lakh compensation for the victim's family along with a house and job.
Protests seen in several parts of country; Left parties calls for nationwide protest
Protests were held in several parts of Uttar Pradesh as well in Delhi, West Bengal and Maharashtra with students as well as politicians taking part in candle marches against the BJP government in the northern state.
In Uttar Pradesh, Opposition party workers reportedly clashed with the police in some parts, while sanitation workers in some parts of the state announced 'no sanitation' strikes demanding justice for Hathras gangrape victim.
In Maharashtra, Congress workers took out a candlelight march from Dr BR Ambedkar statue to Central Library in Mumbai in protest against the Hathras gangrape. State Ministers Balasaheb Thorat and Yashomati Thakur also participated in the candlelight march. The Shiv Sena too slammed the UP government with party spokesperson Sanjay Raut questioning the silence of Dalit leaders over the gangrape.
Maharashtra: Congress workers took out a candlelight march from Dr BR Ambedkar statue to Central Library in Mumbai in protest against the #Hathras (Uttar Pradesh) gangrape incident.
State Ministers Balasaheb Thorat and Yashomati Thakur also participated in the candlelight march. pic.twitter.com/9qDcRtNpaJ
" ANI (@ANI) September 30, 2020
According to ANI, Congress workers also staged protests outside the West Bengal Raj Bhavan in Kolkata.
West Bengal: Youth Congress workers staged a protest outside Raj Bhavan in Kolkata today, demanding justice for Hathras (Uttar Pradesh) gang-rape victim. They were later detained by Police. pic.twitter.com/EX2ddYgBdh " ANI (@ANI) September 30, 2020
Protests were also held in Delhi near the India Gate by All India Students Association and Bhim Army.
Delhi: Members of All India Students Association (AISA) and Bhim Army staged a protest near India Gate earlier today, demanding justice for Hathras (Uttar Pradesh) gang-rape victim. pic.twitter.com/ECeOOrkTkl
" ANI (@ANI) September 30, 2020
In Uttar Pradesh, Congress workers staged protests in Hathras, Lucknow, Azamgarh, Bhadohi, Chandauli, Chitrakoot, Pratapgarh, and Varanasi, among others, reports said. Congress' state media convenor Lalan Kumar told PTI that party workers were taken into custody at several places.
Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu led the protesters to the chief minister's residence in the state capital Lucknow, but they were stopped at the VVIP guest house, Kumar said.
He claimed that a number of Congress workers were injured as police used batons to stop them from proceeding towards the chief minister's residence.
Protests were staged in Hathras by the Balmiki Samaj and the Congress, with the protesters clashing with policemen at several places. There were reports of stonepelting and a motorcycle being set ablaze, but there was no official confirmation.
Samajwadi Party (SP) MLC Yashwant Singh was stopped by the Hathras police from proceeding towards the victim's village.
Additional police has been deployed and the situation in Hathras is now under control, the police said.
A report in News18 said that the Valmiki community has announced a 'no sanitation' strike in the city.
According to PTI, the Nagar Nigam Safai Karmacharis' Union of Aligarh boycotted all civic work as a token protest. They have also formed the Balmiki Sangharsh Samiti, which has submitted a memorandum to the president demanding that the culprits of the Hathras gangrape be hanged.
Local leaders belonging to a number of political parties participated in a meeting of the samiti on Tuesday night and candlelight protests were held in the Civil Lines police station area.
Separate protests were held by the Congress and the Samajwadi Party.
A candlelight march was taken out on the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus and a large number of students handed over a memorandum addressed to the president to the city magistrate.
Heavy police patrolling is underway in all sensitive areas of Aligarh.
The additional district magistrate (city), Malpani said no untoward incident has been reported and the situation in the localities on the Agra road, where protests were staged over the Hathras gangrape on Tuesday evening, is normal now.
A report from Aligarh said Bhim Army workers staged a protest in Hathras and Tappal towns, alleging that the chief of the outfit, Chandrashekhar Azad, has been detained by the Uttar Pradesh Police.
Earlier in the day, functionaries of the Azad Samaj Party, which was launched by the Bhim Army chief in March, claimed that Azad and the Bhim Army's Delhi unit head Himanshu Balmiki went missing after 10 pm on Tuesday while they were on their way to Hathras, accompanying the family of the gangrape victim.
There was, however, no official confirmation of Azad's arrest, despite efforts to contact senior police officers, PTI reported.
Lalan Kumar also said that Congress workers also staged a sit-in in Hathras demanding justice for the gangrape victim and their colleagues in Varanasi gheraoed the Minister's Office.
With inputs from ANI and PTI