Video Editors: Ashutosh Bhardwaj and Shubham Khanna
(This story is being republished to mark a year since the Hathras rape victim was allegedly 'forcibly' cremated by the UP Police in the dead of the night, after she succumbed to her injuries in Delhi's Safdurjang hospital a week after she was gang-raped by four Thakur men in her village. It was originally published on 14 September 2021.)
In Chandpa, a small village in Western Uttar Pradesh's Hathras district, it has been a year of waiting - for justice, for compensation, for dignity.
A year ago, on 14 September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly gang-raped and brutalised by four upper caste men in the village. After two weeks, when she succumbed to her injuries in a Delhi hospital, her body was taken back to the village and forcibly cremated by the UP Police.
The incident had created shockwaves across the country with politicians, media and activists camping for justice for the young girl. There were also members of several right-wing and upper-caste groups who flocked to the village supporting the accused. Protests were held across the country, opposition politicians were lathicharged and the UP Police claimed to have unearthed 'conspiracy to create tensions'.
Gradually, the media glare faded, the protests phased out. But, the lives of six members of the victim's family has turned upside down.
"After the incident, we were provided CRPF protection. So we are not allowed to go anywhere. We go out only when we have some work like to the court or get ration (but even then police accompany us). We can't even go to the fields. It's like our lives have been caged."Victim's Elder Brother
There are at least 30-40 CRPF officials constantly surveilling the victim's family in this Thakur-dominated village, as per the Supreme Court's October 2020 order. The brother adds, "They are here for our protection but it is unfortunate that we still need protection in a village where we were born and raised."
Despite 24-hour protection and being completely cut off from the rest of the village, the family has not been spared hostility. On 5 March, an incident in the Hathras district court where the hearing of the case is currently underway, the victim's lawyer and brother were allegedly threatened and intimidated.
"My questioning was underway in Hathras court (on 5 March), some lawyers entered the court and tried to intimidate our lawyer. They threatened to kill her. I was scared that a scuffle might break out because the atmosphere was so heated up. The judge himself asked the police to escort our lawyer till the Hathras border."Victim's Elder Brother
On the other hand, the families of the accused - Sandeep, Ravi, Ramu and Luvkush - who live right opposite the victim's house still deny rape and allege 'honour killing.' Ravi's brother, who had earlier claimed that the victim's family 'putting up an act', still holds onto that belief, despite the victim's dying statement and the CBI confirming gang rape. He said, "We do not trust the Delhi media. They don't show our side."
When asked if they expect any support or protection during legal hearings, the brother said, "Humara kaun kya ukhaar lega is gaon mein? Dalit parivar ko chahiye protection. Humein nahi chahiye. (What can anyone do to us in this village? The Dalit family would need protection. We don't need it.)
After the incident, the Yogi Adityanath-led government had promised to compensate the family with Rs 25 lakhs, a house and a government job. So far, the family has just received the monetary compensation which they say "primarily get spent on traveling for different court hearings."
There are two simultaneous cases going on - one is of the victim's gang rape and murder which is underway at the special SC/ST court in Hathras district and the other is of the forced cremation and role of state officials during the investigation being heard at the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court.
The case hearings had paused during the lockdown and is now picking up pace. But, for the teenager's mother, the nights come with haunting memories of her "lively daughter who will never come back."
"Day and night, I keep thinking about my daughter. She used to sleep with me. The memories haunt me at night. She used to such a lively person. Now, she will never come back to me. I just keep praying that she gets justice very soon."Victim's Mother