New Delhi: A nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly gang-raped, murdered and then cremated by her attackers in South West Delhi Sunday evening. All that was left of her for the forensic team to collect were her legs apart from her ashes, Delhi Police said Tuesday.
Four suspects were arrested Monday — a priest, Radhe Shyam, along with Laxmi Narayan and Kuldeep who worked with the priest, and Salim, a resident of the area — a day after the child’s mother identified them.
The accused have been charged under sections 376 (rape), 302 (murder), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 204 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) apart from the relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the SC/ST Act.
Family members and relatives of the victim as well as residents of Purana Nangal in the Delhi Cantonment area, where the family lives, have been protesting since Monday evening, demanding the death penalty for the accused.
Speaking to ThePrint Tuesday, the child’s mother said that “only the death penalty through a fast track court” will bring justice for her daughter.
Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Aazad, along with activists, Bhim Army members and leaders of the Dalit community, joined the protest Tuesday, demanding strict and immediate action in the case.
Aazad’s team had visited the victim’s family Monday and offered their support. “Our struggle will continue till justice is done,” Aazad had posted on Twitter.
‘She wanted to play, sent her to fetch water’
On Sunday evening, the girl, an only child, had told her parents she wanted to go to the Peer Baba dargah to play, the family told ThePrint. They, however, asked her to fetch some cold water first from the water cooler at the crematorium, a 5-minute walk from the house.
The father dropped the child at the crematorium and told her, “You can play after we have cold water for dinner.” He then left to buy vegetables, intending to pick the child up on his way back.
About half an hour later, the priest Radhe Shyam called the mother, asking her to “come quickly”.
On reaching the crematorium, the mother found the child’s lifeless body on the ground. Her lips had turned blue, there were burn marks on her wrists and elbow, and there was blood coming from her nose, the mother recounted.
According to her, before she realised what was happening, the priest told her: “Your daughter got electrocuted while filling water, hurry up the cremation or the cops will conduct a post mortem and doctors will steal her organs.”
“I lost my voice. She was such a playful child … she went out in a blue t-shirt and black shorts, excited to play. Before I could fathom, the baba and his accomplices started getting logs. They didn’t even ask me for an Aadhaar card or money … even got the red cloth to wrap her,” said the mother.
Pointing towards a carrom board in the corner of the tiny, cramped one-room house, she said: “She told me she will play carroms after coming back with her father.”
The mother claimed the cremation began about 10 minutes after she reached the spot. As the pyre burned, she called her husband, while her wails drew about 200 villagers to the spot, she told ThePrint.
The villagers then extinguished the fire, the family said. Of her body, only the child’s legs could be salvaged from the pyre.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (South West) Ignit Pratap Singh, who spoke to the family and village residents at the protest site Tuesday, assured them that the child’s remains will soon be handed over to the family so they can perform the last rites.
‘Missing’ rape charge
Police had initially only registered charges of culpable homicide, wrongful confinement and destruction of evidence in the case. However, following Monday’s protests and based on the family’s statement to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, rape charges were added.
A senior police officer investigating the case, on the condition of anonymity, told ThePrint, “The mother hadn’t mentioned rape charges in her initial statement to the police, so it wasn’t added. We added it after the ST/SC commission recorded a statement of the mother and informed us.”
However, the family and the villagers have refuted this.
“Instead of going after the accused, the police kept questioning us… They separated us and there were multiple rounds of questioning, followed by intimidation to remove the rape charge,” the father claimed.
Delhi Police had reached the spot around 10:30pm Sunday, collected the remains of the girl, and detained the four accused.
“We repeatedly told them that she had been assaulted sexually but they wouldn’t listen. They did this because she’s a Dalit. They took us to the police station and kept us there all night, until the next day afternoon. They tried to scare us and threatened us into taking back the rape charge,” claimed the mother.
“We helped take the body out … the mother had stated then and there that the girl had been sexually assaulted, but the police paid no heed. We are all eyewitnesses to it,” said Bipin, a neighbour of the family.
Other neighbours also alleged the police tried to “hush up” the matter and tried to pressure the family. “The family was intimidated by the police. They lost their daughter, but instead, the police repeatedly questioned and harassed them,” said another neighbour.
Some residents and the family have accused the Station House Officer of the Delhi Cantonment Police Station, Jagdish Rai, and Assistant Commissioner of Police, Delhi Cantt, Dilip Kumar, of trying to keep the case under wraps.
At Tuesday’s protest, DCP Singh said, “Strict action will be taken against the officers who harassed the family.”
‘Priest gambled, took drugs’
Residents of the old Nangal village ThePrint spoke to alleged the priest and his associates would “gamble” and “take drugs” in the crematorium.
“They would do all sorts of wrong activities there. They sit together the entire time — gamble, drink alcohol and even take drugs. We have also come to know that they would call young children to the crematorium and make them massage them,” a resident claimed.
The victim’s mother has alleged that the priest ‘confessed’ to raping the child.
“He accepted in front of me and the villagers that he raped my daughter. He said ‘galti ho gaya humse (I’ve made a mistake).”
“This priest doesn’t let go of a penny and no cremation is done without documentation. All the four were in a hurry to burn the body … I could see it on their faces. They could have called a doctor, but all they wanted was to get rid of her. They tried to manipulate us to sign the record book, but we didn’t,” she further claimed.
News of the crime has since sparked outrage, with people on social media comparing the incident to the Hathras rape case, in which a 20-year-old woman was allegedly gang-raped and killed by four upper caste men in Uttar Pradesh’s Boolgarhi village last September. The woman later died in Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital.
A controversy erupted after the UP Police and district administration cremated the woman without the consent of her family.
Dismissing the parallels being drawn, the senior police officer quoted above maintained that the action taken in the latest crime has been prompt and has no similarities to the Hathras incident.
This report has been updated with quotes from the victim’s family and Delhi Police.
This story first appeared on theprint.in