Other States

Hathras gang rape | Police, media and the spectacle of grief in Boolgarhi

Police personnel stand guard near the premises of the relatives of Hathras gang rape victim at Bool Garhi in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district on October 3, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AFP

A week after the Hathras victim of alleged gang rape and brutal assault was consigned to flames in the dead of night, the family is struggling to come to terms with the intrusive gaze of the media, changing narratives on the basis of selective leaks, and a formidable security presence in the village.

Hathras gang rape | A long caste feud, a horrific crime, and a sudden cremation

“We have said enough to the government, now justice should be done and we should be allowed to grieve in peace,” said the victim’s aunt, squatting at the door behind which the family shuts itself for several hours during the day.

When this correspondent visited Boolgarhi on Thursday, the road to the village was thickly dotted with khaki-clad police personnel. Two mobile lavatories indicated the long hours they had been putting in to secure the village that has seen an unusual rush of political delegations and media teams over the last week. 

There was an imposing metal detector in the outer courtyard that was bustling with relatives and activists last week. Now, there is a sprawling tent for housing policemen between their shifts. The narrow lane leading to the residence is also lined with policemen. 

A female police constable holding a heavy register asks visitors to submit their details. There are eight CCTV cameras, multiple LED bulbs, and two “shadows” for each member of the family to ensure that no movement of the family and no questions of the media could go unnoticed. An official claimed, “This is what the family and the situation demanded.” 

As the news of the family approaching the Allahabad High Court against their illegal detention spreads, two female officers request the father of the victim to come out and record a clarification. Answering in half sentences to leading questions, he says he is satisfied with the security and is not planning to shift out. He denies that he asked anybody to approach the High Court on his behalf. 

When they leave, he mumbles, “What to say...every word is accounted for and could be used against us...we are simple people...is mahaul main suraksha to chahiye, par (but we need security in this atmosphere)...” 

Meanwhile, impatient crews of a section of electronic media are looking for ways to swoop onto the family. One of them starts doing a “sting” on unsuspecting family members of the victim. 

Behind these “journalists” was an official, doing his own “sting” for “official reasons”. He rushed in to record every time the victim’s sister-in-law (wife of the victim’s elder brother), who was present in the village, gets agitated with the constant probing. She says, “A narrative is being built to malign the victim by leaking the call details. It is a conspiracy to discredit us. The victim was uneducated and didn’t know how to use a phone.” 

She says she usually keeps the said phone, which is in her father-in-law’s name. Call data records reportedly show calls made from Sandeep’s (one of the accused) phone to the phone of the victim's brother, and vice-versa. 

The family of Chanderpal, uncle of the victim’s father who purportedly was one of the four close relatives of the family who participated in the last rites, is worried because the old man has been taken to Hathras to record his statement. “He went to the cremation ground after his nephew asked him to do so. When he reached there, the pyre was already lit,” says Prakash, his son. 

Policemen took wooden sticks and cow dung cakes from their residence, adds Prakash, and says, “But at that time, the body hasn’t reached the village and we didn’t know that they would burn it without even showing us the face.” 

Prakash and his wife maintain they had heard of an argument between the two families about the phone calls made by Sandeep, one of arrested accused. “I don’t know the exact date but it happened before the lockdown. When the father of the victim complained, Guddu, Sandeep’s father, had slapped him. After that, Sandeep left the village,” says Prakash, adding his cousin did not reveal it because “in a village such things bring a bad name only to the girl”. 

While Guddu and his wife are not in the village, Rajwati, mother of Ramu Singh, another arrested accused, who is also Sandeep’s uncle, says she is not aware of the incident but confirms that Sandeep had left the village in March to work with a courier company in Delhi and returned about 10 days before the incident. 

She says that though Sandeep has attended high school, he could not write a letter. “I cannot say about Sandeep,but my son Ramu was at the dairy at the time of the incident,” she insisted. 

Some of the men of the accused’s household have returned to the village and have recorded their statements with the Special Investigation Team (SIT). “We hope we will get justice,” says Hariom, Ramu’s elder brother. “We are not aware whether the girl and Sandeep were in touch and have come to know about the letter only through the media,” he says. 

But he has no answer as to why it took Sandeep so long to divulge the details of the “relationship”, considering he was arrested on September 19. “We were all hiding because earlier the police would detain anybody related to the accused,” he said.

Also read | Hathras, a new phase in the caste atrocity narrative

Towards the end of the day, when The Hindu asked the father of the victim about the phone calls, he said, “The purpose of those calls should also be revealed. It could have been part of his conspiracy. She has already died a thousand times in the last week...” 

Seema Kushwaha, lawyer of the victim’s family, who will accompany the four members of the family before the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow bench on October 12, says, “Even if the calls were made, did it give the accused the right to rape and kill the victim?” she wonders, refuting the honour killing narrative. “The victim’s first statement, made at the Chandpa police station on September 14, was enough to invoke sections of rape,” asserted Ms. Kushwaha. 

Burning the body without the family’s consent was inhuman,” she said. “If they sensed a law and order problem, more force could have been called in.” 

Refusing to divulge the details of the investigation, Vineet Jaiswal, Superintendent of Police, Hathras, said the police have been “fair” in registering the FIR for violations of Section 144. “We have registered an FIR against a former BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) MLA for holding a panchayat at his residence. Rashtriya Swarn Parishad’s Pankaj Dhwajbhaiya has been warned that he would be arrested under Section 151 of the CrPC if he is seen in the area.” 

On what material was used to light the pyre, Mr. Jaiswal said it was being looked into by the SIT. 

(The names of the relatives of the victim have been changed.)

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 9:29:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/police-media-and-the-spectacle-of-grief-in-boolgarhi/article32821044.ece

Next Story