Hathras case: A woman repeatedly reported rape. Why are police denying it?
The woman was found by her mother (picture) after the two went to cut grass
Late last month, a 19-year-old woman died in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after she reported that she had been raped and brutally assaulted. The evidence supports their story. Why do the officers insist that she was not raped? Geeta Pandey from the BBC reports from Hathras.
The injured teenage girl was taken to the Chandpa Police Station in Hathras District by her parents and brother. In a 48-second video shot on location and shown to the BBC, she is lying on a cement platform while being questioned by an off-camera police officer.
There appears to be bruises on her neck, face, and hand, and she appears to be in tremendous pain. It is difficult for her to speak because she later has a large cut on her tongue.
She tells the policeman that her attacker tried to strangle her and the policeman asks her why. "Because I didn't let him do zabardasti," she says.
Zabardasti is an Urdu word that literally means "coercion" or "violence" and is used as slang for rape by women, especially in parts of rural India.
"Women who are not gender specific or brave enough to use the word rape often call it 'Ganda Kaam' (dirty work) or zabardasti," said Shabnam Hashmi, a women's rights activist who visited the family earlier this week.
The 19-year-old repeated the same sentence in a second video taped just hours later when she was rushed to Hathras County Hospital. In the second video, she even names an upper-caste neighbor as the perpetrator.
The victim was a Dalit - men and women who were formerly known as "untouchables" and are at the bottom of India's harsh caste hierarchy. According to official figures, an average of 10 Dalit women were raped daily in India over the past year, and Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of incidents of violence against women in any state.
The millet field - the crime scene
The young woman in Hathras - who cannot be named - was found by her mother in a field with high millet crops. They had gone to cut grass for fodder.
"She was lying on the floor, battered and injured, barely conscious and naked from the waist down," her mother told me at her house in the village of Bhulgarhi in Hathras, sobbing into her veil. "She was bleeding, she couldn't move her neck, her arms and legs were lifeless, she was vomiting blood."
But neither of the young woman's two rape allegations, which were made within hours of the attack, was recorded on police records.
"There have been very serious mistakes on the part of the police," said SR Darapuri, a former police officer and now vice president of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Uttar Pradesh.
"The police didn't write a complaint - they instead asked their brother to do so. They didn't state what the victim told them. They didn't even call an ambulance to take them to the hospital even though they were in in a precarious state, "he said.
The state government has suspended Hathra's superintendent of police Vikrant Vir for "negligence and negligence". Four other police officers, including the one seen on the video interviewing the victim at the Chandpa Police Station, have also been suspended. Superintendent Vir denied any wrongdoing.
A fatal attack, a cremation and no parting
The 19-year-old fought for her life for two weeks. On the morning of September 29, she died as a result of the attack in the Delhi hospital where she was transferred. Your autopsy report has not been published.
The case only made headlines after police and administrators cremated her body in the middle of the night on September 29 - a move the family took without their consent and which aroused suspicion.
Since her death, the state government has insisted that she was not raped at all. In a series of confidential interviews, officials attempted to deny or downplay the rape allegations. And reports in the Indian press said the state had hired the services of a public relations firm to press for their opposition.
A senior police officer, additional director general Prashant Kumar, said last week that the woman's family did not mention rape in the first complaint and cited a forensic report that found no semen was found in her gut sample - an allegation which has been refuted by experts who suggest that a lack of semen in this sample does not rule out rape.
Doctors at Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College Hospital (JNMCH) in Aligarh, where she was treated for two weeks, indicated that the forensic report was based on samples taken 11 days after the attack. The protocol states that any evidence gathered after four days of being raped is useless.
Protesters have called for Dalit rights after the attack
Police have since alleged the young woman did not claim rape until September 22, nine days after her attack. However, the video shows that within hours of the attack, she said "zabardasti" twice - another word for rape.
A report from the hospital gynecologist who interviewed and examined the teenager confirmed the "use of force". I saw a leaked copy of the report - it said it confirmed to doctors that "full vaginal penetration of the penis" occurred.
"Based on the local examination, I believe that there are signs of violence being used," wrote the gynecologist. The report postponed confirmation of the penetrating traffic until a forensic report was completed.
What is India's caste system?
Then there are the victim's own words. On September 22nd, when her condition became critical, the hospital called a judge and she made a "dying statement".
These statements carry weight in court. "Rape takes place in isolated locations and there are few witnesses, so courts generally take a victim's death certificate at face value," Darapuri said. "It is generally enough for conviction unless other evidence contradicts it."
According to a copy of the statement filed in court and an interview with a health officer present in the room, the 19-year-old informed the judge that she had been raped and strangled and named four of her neighbors as the perpetrators. All four have now been arrested and all deny the charge.
Large rallies were held in support of the defendants, attended by their relatives
In Hathras, only a narrow alley separates the homes of the victim and the accused. But their lives are divided by a caste hierarchy that is as rigid as it is old. She belonged to the Valmiki community, the lowest level of the Hindu caste system; The four defendants are Thakurs, an upper caste warrior community. The crime has only widened the gap.
I found relatives of some of the arrested men under a tree behind their house. "We also want to know the truth," said Sunder Pal, the brother of one of the defendants. "She should get justice. But my brother and other defendants are innocent too, and they should get justice too."
Another defendant's brother, Hariom Kumar, insisted that his brother was at his place of work at the time of the alleged attack.
Other Thakur men interfered, accusing the victims' families of lying. "It's all a rumor," said Kumar. "There was no rape."
What does rape mean for women in Delhi?
It is no surprise that the defendants' families would oppose sexual assault. Laws passed after a vicious rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012 allow the death penalty for cases of rape with murder.
And state governments have potential political reasons to downplay rape numbers as well, said Darapuri, a civil liberties activist and former police officer.
"Rape and atrocities against Dalits become political issues in elections, so all governments are trying to keep these numbers down," he said. "The state has local council and general elections in the next 18 months, and the government doesn't want the opposition to influence it."
Protesters burn an effigy of UP Prime Minister Yogi Adityanath over the Hathras rape case
After the death of the young woman in Hathras, protesters flooded the streets. The police have been heavily criticized for taking action against the demonstrators. Many were beaten with sticks to prevent them from visiting the victim's family. Opposition leaders who had joined were pushed around.
Uttar Pradesh Prime Minister Yogi Adityanath, one of India's most controversial right-wing politicians, who is also a Thakur, has been criticized for how his government has handled the case. Some of his party colleagues held large rallies in support of the accused men attended by their relatives. Mr. Adityanath, who accused the opposition of "making politics over the corpses of the poor", did not visit the victim's family.
On Tuesday, state authorities told the Supreme Court that there was an "international conspiracy" to spark caste and religious unrest in Uttar Pradesh and overthrow Mr. Adityanath's government.
The young woman's mother is working at home earlier this week
Amid the political noise, the despair and grief of a family in Hathras is lost. At her home in Bhulgarhi village, well-meaning journalists asked the young woman's father to respond to the Thakurs allegations that her daughter had a friendly relationship with the main suspect.
They ask him if he is opposed to the state's decision to hand the investigation over to the federal police. would he take a polygraph test as the defendant requires; How much compensation did he receive?
"I just want justice, I don't want money," he told me. "I'm a day laborer. I make 200 rupees [$ 3; £ 2] a day, I can live on 50 rupees. But I just want justice."
I asked her brother if he believed justice was coming. "We have no more faith," he said. "We'll believe it when it happens."
Read more about our coverage of the Hathras rape case:
A fatal attack, a cremation and no parting
The death of a rape victim in India causes outrage
Rape Victims Cremated "Without Family Approval"
What is India's caste system?
Dalit women are among the most oppressed in the world
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