9-Year-Old’s Death in Delhi Renews Protests Against Sexual Violence
NEW DELHI – The grieving mother sat down to protest on a busy road in the Indian capital and, undeterred by the heavy monsoon showers, repeated to anyone who wanted to listen: her only child, a daughter aged 9, went out to fetch water from the cooler at the neighborhood crematorium and eventually died.
Warned that her daughter had been electrocuted, she rushed to the crematorium to find signs of abuse on the girl’s body. Despite her protests, the men at the site quickly cremated her daughter’s body before the girl’s father could even get there – destroying evidence, she said, of the rape she believed she had. committed.
The case sparked a new wave of protests in New Delhi against rampant sexual violence, especially against low-caste Dalit women and girls, like the girl and her family.
The girl’s parents say their child was raped and killed by four men, including the crematorium’s chief priest. They accuse Delhi police of failing to stop the men from destroying potential evidence and then detaining and pressuring them to only file a complaint echoing the priest’s version of what happened – that the child was electrocuted after walking on a wire.
Police say an investigation is underway and have arrested the four accused men, who are now charged with rape, murder and forcible confinement. Police have denied the family neglect and abuse charges.
“The priest said, ‘Don’t make noise, don’t shout or else you’ll have to face a long trial,’” the child’s mother said in an interview with The New York Times. “If she died of electric current, why did he rush to cremate her without a record?”
(Indian law prohibits the publication of the names or any identifying details of rape victims or their families.)
Opposition leaders have raised questions about the treatment by the New Delhi police, which responds to the central government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Opposition groups, Dalit militant organizations, and youth and women’s rights activists staged candlelight vigils and protests near the country’s parliament, demanding “justice for the daughter of the nation” – a slogan which has become familiar as it is repeated after each brutal assault.
The girl’s family set up a protest tent on the main road to Delhi cantonment, just a few hundred meters from the crime scene and not far from a shrine where mother and daughter begged for alms.
Two dozen security forces guarded the crematorium with its doors closed on Thursday. The water cooler and the pyre where the cremation took place were sealed with police tape.
The girl’s family had moved into a one-room apartment in a narrow alleyway off the main road less than a month ago. She’d quickly befriended the neighborhood kids, playing Carrom pool with her downstairs neighbors.
“She was so sensitive, so well behaved,” said Suman, a neighbor downstairs. “And she was tough.”
The apartments do not have a source of drinking water and residents normally go to a pump near the sanctuary on the main road. The girl would take a further step, crossing the street to the crematorium, which had a water cooler.
On the evening of August 1, she never returned home after her water intake. Her mother started to worry, then the crematorium priest let it be known that the girl had been electrocuted.
But when she rushed there, she found signs of abuse on her daughter’s body, she said.
“His hands were bruised, the skin of one hand was peeling. Her lips were blue and black. I opened her mouth a little, her teeth were turning blue and black. Her eyes were closed, her hair parted, her clothes wet. She was lying on the bench inside the crematorium, ”she said.
The mother said that despite her protests to wait for the girl’s father to arrive and determine what had happened, the priest and the other three men rushed through the death rites and had set the body on fire. When her husband arrived and a crowd gathered, police were already there, but they did not prevent the forced cremation, two witnesses said.
“The priest said, ‘You are beggars, how are you going to fight in court and at the police station?’ “, did she say. “I was going crazy. His father wasn’t there, he hadn’t even seen his face, and the priest was saying, “I’m going to cremate him here.” I said not to cremate him! The priest forcibly cremated her.
Some in the crowd grabbed the priest and started beating him and accusing him of rape, witnesses and family said.
The mother said she and her husband were then taken to the police station where they remained until early the following evening. She said they were held in separate rooms, beaten and intimidated by a police informant, who was allowed in and told them to accept the account that the child had died from electrocution and without talk about rape.
Ingit Pratap Singh, deputy police commissioner for southwest Delhi, said the reason the parents stayed at the police station for so long was because they were brought in after midnight and it took time to drop off a complaint and take the family to a magistrate when court proceedings begin the next morning. He denied accusations that the police had remained inactive at the crematorium or that the family had been mistreated.
Mr Singh said the couple did not bring the rape charge in the original complaint when they appeared before the magistrate. The charge was not added to the record until a day later, after the pair met with officers of a commission to examine allegations of abuse and discrimination against members of the lower castes.
“But before the metropolitan magistrate, there was no police,” Singh said. “Why did they not bring up the rape in front of the metropolitan magistrate?
Human rights activists say local authorities often try to silence cases like this. In a similar case in the state of Uttar Pradesh last year, police delayed filing charges for the alleged gang rape of a 19-year-old Dalit girl despite the victim’s video statement at the hospital, where she later died of her injuries. Questions of law enforcement bias escalated after the family accused police of rushing the body to cremation in the dark of night. The family is still awaiting trial.
“You see a similar pattern – the police have not been able to file a proper investigation report, as a result of which many perpetrators of rape crimes are released,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, which ran the Delhi Rape Response Center. “The conviction rate for crimes against women remains at a dismal 24 percent. She said that the caste prejudices of the police are strongly manifested when the victims are Dalits.
“The police, unfortunately, have sided with the ruling class or the elite,” Ms. Kumari said. “It has been a model in the police force in India. “
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