Family members of the 19-year-old Dalit woman from Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras, who died after being allegedly gang-raped, maintained before the Allahabad High Court on Monday (October 12) that she was cremated in the middle of the night without their consent and their lawyer said they wanted the trial shifted out of the state.
Hathras District Magistrate Praveen Kumar Laxar and Superintendent of Police Vineet Jaiswal told the court that the decision on the cremation was taken by the local administration and police, and there were no instructions or pressure from the state government.
The family’s counsel, Seema Kashwaha, told NDTV, “The court asked the District Magistrate: What if it was a girl from a rich family? Would you have cremated her the same way?”
Senior Uttar Pradesh administration and police officials, also summoned by the court, said the late-night cremation was due to law and order considerations.
Justices Pankaj Mithal and Rajan Roy fixed November 2 as the next date of hearing.
The 19-year-old Dalit woman died at a Delhi hospital a fortnight after she was allegedly raped by four upper-caste men at her village on September 14.
There was outrage over her “secret” cremation at her village with her family claiming that it was against their wishes and they were not even allowed to bring the woman’s body home one last time.
The high court had then summoned top UP administration and police officials as well as the victim’s family to depose before it on the issue. Her parents and three brothers were brought amid tight security to Lucknow on Monday, over an hour before the hearing was to begin.
UP Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Awasthi, Director General of Police H C Awasthy and Additional Director General (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar also appeared before the court, which had said it was shocked by the episode when it issued the summons.
Senior advocate J N Mathur, who was appointed amicus curie by the court, pleaded that every citizen had the right to be cremated with dignity by the family members as per their religious practices. He cited Article 25 of the Constitution on the right to practice one’s religion freely.
The family’s counsel Seema Kushwaha asked the court to transfer the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation and the trial to Delhi. Additional Advocate General V K Shahi, who represented the state government, said the investigation has already been handed over to the CBI. “The family wants the case to be transferred to Delhi or Mumbai,” Kushwaha told reporters outside the court.
The family also asked that they should be provided security, she said. “They did not want the report of the investigation to be made public,” according to the lawyer.
V K Shahi told reporters that the next date of hearing has been fixed for November 2.
“On behalf of the government, we have filed our affidavit. All family members of the victim appeared in court, and the court questioned them. The court questioned Additional Chief Secretary (Home), ADG Law and Order and District Magistrate of Hathras,” he said.
On the last rites of the victim, he said, “The family members of the victim have presented their side. We have presented our side.”
The family’s lawyer said the state authorities were asked about the hurried cremation and they cited law and order as the reason. She claimed that there were only 50-60 relatives and villagers around compared to the 300-400 police personnel deployed there, arguing that they could have controlled any situation.
The lawyer said the districts borders were also sealed and there was no law and order issue.
(With inputs from agencies)