Anger in India after four men cleared of rape charge in Dalit teen’s murder: ‘What justice did we get?’ REDIRECTED

None of those accused in the gang rape of a young woman in India who subsequently died from her injuries have been found guilty by a court, nearly three years after the brutal crime.

The court in northern Uttar Pradesh state’s Hathras district – where the crime occurred – on Thursday sentenced main accused Sandeep Singh to life imprisonment under charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and for offences under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act, an Indian law that seeks to protect lower caste groupings.

The other three accused, Ravi, Luv Kush and Ramu, were acquitted after facing a trial in the case.

The brutal gang rape and murder occurred on 14 September 2020 when the 19-year-old Dalit woman was found naked and bleeding by her mother in the fields near a village in Hathras, located in the northern Uttar Pradesh state.

The woman was later transferred to a hospital in Delhi, where she succumbed to her injuries on 29 September. The case had drawn international alarm and sparked anger in India for its brutality and the manner with which local police officials approached the case.

The Dalit community is the lowest of the four major divisions in the Hindu caste system and are included in a group known as Scheduled Castes who are provided additional protections in Indian law. They comprise about 16 per cent of the total Indian population, according to the 2011 census.

Police officials had proceeded to cremate the woman’s body in the middle of the night, allegedly on the orders of the district magistrate without the consent of the family. The incident sparked protests with right groups calling for justice and criticising the state and central governments, both run by prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, for allegedly protecting the upper caste men.

Yogita Bhayana, the founder of People Against Rapes in India, told The Independent that the order was “disappointing”. She said: “We are disappointed with this order because at least in the Hathras case we had expected justice. But even in this case three of the four accused have been acquitted and the main accused has not been charged with sexual assault despite the victim’s dying declaration saying so.”

“The government in a way failed to render justice to the Dalit community,” Dr VA Ramesh Nathan, of the non-profit Social Awareness Society For Youth, which advocates for Dalit rights, said. “We are very disappointed.”

In October 2020, the state’s high court transferred the case to the country’s nodal investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). A high court bench, however, lashed out at police officials for allegedly violating the rights of the Dalit woman and her family.

“This action of the state authorities, though in the name of law and order situation, is prima facie an infringement upon the human rights of the victim and her family,” the high court bench said. The CBI filed its chargesheet in December 2020, in which it said the woman was raped by the four men after she refused the main accused Sandeep Singh’s advances, who felt “aggravated”, reported the Indian Express.

The CBI also said the woman had named the four accused and alleged gang rape in her dying declaration. But Uttar Pradesh police cited a Forensic Science Laboratory report claiming the victim was never raped. The chief medical officer of the Aligarh hospital where she was initially treated for two weeks said the samples could not be used as evidence or lack thereof, as they were taken 11 days after the crime, according to the Indian Express.

After Thursday’s order, the victim’s family said the court failed to deliver justice. The deceased teenager’s sister-in-law, who came to court on Thursday, said the family will appeal the case.

“We will not be satisfied till all four of the men are punished. We will go to higher courts to get justice. What justice did we get? This was a casteist order that favoured the upper caste men. They have got justice. Not us,” she was quoted as saying to reporters outside court in a video posted by Times of India reporter Deepak Lavania.

The Independent has reached out to the victim’s lawyer Seema Khushwaha. The court order has triggered outrage from Dalit rights groups and observers. “On 10 October 2020, CBI confirms gang rape, but surprisingly today court acquits 3 accused,” wrote The Dalit Voice, a rights campaigner advocating for the Dalit community on Twitter.

“The haste with which this poor child was cremated in the dead of night was probably to erase all evidence. What happened in Hathras is beyond shameful,” wrote columnist Tavleen Singh.

According to the federal government's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report published last August, crimes against India's lower castes, or historically marginalised communities, increased by 6.4 per cent.

The report said while simple hurt (2,358 cases) formed the highest number of cases of crimes, accounting for 26.8 per cent during 2021, this was followed by rape with 15 per cent (1,324 cases), and assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty with 10 per cent.

“No human rights when it comes to a Dalit woman?” tweeted the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch – a platform for Dalit women to challenge and address caste-based violence.

“Looking at the reported crimes 11 SC/ST women raped per day,” said Dr Nathan, referring to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) or the official umbrella term that groups lower caste communities and is recognised by India’s constitution. “These numbers are increasing every year. In the Hathras case, right from the beginning the police and officials were trying to cover up, so we feel justice has been denied.”

The NCRB report said, overall, crimes against women in India increased sharply by 15 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year. Last year, 11 men who were convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano, a Muslim woman, and killing members of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots were released, drawing backlash against the government.

Ms Bhayana said only in the 2012 Nirbhaya case – where a young paramedic was brutally gang raped and murdered in the capital New Delhi, which forced a change and tightened India’s rape laws – had there been justice.

“Only in the Nirbhaya case can we say there was justice because of the attention the case had got. But other cases don’t get such attention. Every day cases are getting diluted and dying. Is this the justice we talk about?” she asked.