“At 7am, we got the call. We want justice. The accused should not be spared,” her brother told TOI on Tuesday morning. When she had been first hospitalised, her spinal cord had been severely injured. Doctors found she was paralysed, her arms partially unresponsive and her tongue badly cut. A week later, she told police she had been dragged by the dupatta round her neck into a field by four men in her village, gang-raped and left there with a warning against telling anyone, or her family would be “shot dead”.
She had been on life support. Her doctors said that the surgery she urgently needed to fix her spine was not possible until her condition improved. It never did. “Severe injuries in the spinal cord due to strangulation resulted in cardiac and pulmonary failure,” the Safdarjung PRO said on Tuesday.
The girl’s sister-in-law said she could have survived had she been treated better. “She needed good treatment and on time. For almost a week since she was admitted (to the Aligarh hospital), she was not attended to properly.” Saying that politicians’ statements that they “understand the family’s grief” mean nothing, she added, “We did not get support because of our identity. We want the four accused to be punished.”
In response, Dr Fakhrul Hoda, head of neurosurgery at JN Medical College in Aligarh, told TOI, “She was moved to the neuro ICU on the third day after being admitted… The district administration and senior police officials had asked the family to move her to Delhi earlier as well. There were no lapses in her treatment here.”
The four men she had named — Ravi Singh (35), Ramu Singh (26), Sandeep (20) and Lavkush (19) — had been arrested earlier on charges of gang rape, attempt to murder and sections of the SC/ST Act. “With her death, Section 302 (murder) of the IPC will be added to the FIR,” Hathras additional SP Prakash Kumar said.
The family runs a small dairy in the village. The girl, the youngest of five siblings, was helping her mother gather cattle fodder when she was attacked. Her mother, 46, knew she had been raped but dared not speak out for fear of reprisal, her brother had told TOI: “She was afraid of the stigma and because all of them were from the dominant caste.”
Alot has changed in rural India in recent years. What continues is violence against women and atrocities against Dalits. In this case, the two overlap. NCRB’s data shows 3.8 lakh crimes against women, including almost 34,000 rapes in 2018. Close to 43,000 crimes against SC/ST were committed, including nearly 3,000 rapes the same year. Despite stringent laws and more social awareness, the persistence of such crimes with sickening regularity underlines again that the law is only as effective as its enforcement. Fast trials and better investigation to ensure higher rates of conviction are the need of the hour.
This was not the first conflict they had been in the centre of. In 2001, ASP Kumar told TOI, the girl’s grandfather had filed a complaint against family members of two of the accused — Sandeep and Ravi — based on which an FIR had been lodged under sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC and the SC/ST Act. The case had been settled in court 14 years later in 2015. The village where they live has 60 dominant caste families and only four Valmiki families.
Soon after the rape charges came to light, two companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary forces was deployed at the village. By Tuesday, police forces from four districts — Agra, Aligarh, Kasganj and Etah — joined them. Her body was being released from Safdarjung at the time of filing this report. Police forces were also deployed at Gabhana toll plaza after reports that Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad would accompany the family from Delhi to Hathras.
The state has given a Rs 4 lakh compensation to the family, promising another tranche after rape charges are established, while the district has given Rs 5.9 lakh to the family. The report of the medical examination, conducted a week after she had been admitted, did not find evidence of sexual assault given the duration that had passed. “We are not considering withdrawal of rape charges from the FIR until the forensic report comes in,” ADG (Agra zone) Ajay Anand told TOI.