Almost a year ago, on September 14, 2020, four upper-caste men in Hathras brutally gang-raped and assaulted a 19-year-old Dalit girl. Eleven days later, the girl succumbed to her injuries and passed away in Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi. The Uttar Pradesh police forcibly cremated the girl’s mortal remains in the middle of the night, thus sparking nationwide uproar against the caste divide and extremely poor state of order in the state. While the Hathras case has now receded from prime time debates and headlines, the family continues to bear the brunt of a long judicial process in a casteist society.
The girl’s family has pledged not to perform her last rites until they get justice for her. They have preserved the ashes of their daughter in a small urn in a corner of a room. The entire village shuns the family. Mostly upper-caste Hindus inhabit the village, who, in fact, think that this is a case of honour killing and not rape. The family is also under the constant surveillance of CCTV cameras and live under constant threat of being attacked by the villagers who stand in solidarity with the families of the accused Thakur men.
Around 40 CPRF personnel also watch over the family. According to a Newslaundry ground report, the family, while they do need the protection, feel like they live in jail. The family members of the girl cannot go anywhere – including the court – without seeking the permission of CPRF personnel.
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“Yahaan ghutan hoti hai (We are suffocating here). Nobody talks to us…they treat us like criminals. I know they (villagers) will attack us once the CRPF leaves. I have three young daughters and I am worried about their safety,” said the girl’s elder brother. He also lost his job shortly after the case made headlines. The girl’s father, who also lost his job further added that it was impossible for them to leave the village since their house has stood there for 70-80 years. “It’s not easy to leave this place. We want people to accept us. What wrong have we done? We can’t go to the temple or visit the market. We stay at home all the time and pray that the court’s judgment comes soon,” he remarked.
According to a report by The Indian Express, the family expressed that their battle is not only for their own daughter but also against the caste oppression in the village. Two cases were registered against this crime. The Allahabad High Court and an SC/ST court in Hathras are hearing this case. The Special Investigation Team is yet to submit a report on the victim’s forced cremation at the Allahabad HC. The SC/ST court is hearing the rest of the case.
Four Thakur men named Sandeep (20), Ravi (35), Luv Kush (23), and Ramu (26), are the accused of this crime. “I have seen the families of the accused going in cars, followed by other villagers in auto-rickshaws and jeeps, when they go to court or to meet the accused in jail. Half the village follows them, but there is no one with us,” the girl’s brother remarked. “We sold all our buffaloes and cows and left our work because of the case. Even at court hearings, the villagers follow us and threaten us and our lawyer. We know they want our lawyer to leave this case. They will do anything to save the Thakur men…”, he added.
The Hathras case is a grave reminder of how ruthless a caste divide still exists in India. While a large population still denies the existence of casteism, caste-based crimes continue to make the headlines of every national daily.