A Question Of Justice Hovers Over Uttar Pradesh Gang Rape Case

Three of the four men accused in the gang rape case have been set free by a special court in Uttar Pradesh.

Members of various organizations during a protest against the death of a 19-year-old Dalit woman who was allegedly gang-raped in Hathras, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

Nearly two and a half years since news of the brutal rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl by four upper caste men in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras shocked the nation, a special SC/ST court there on Thursday sentenced the main accused to life imprisonment while acquitting the three other accused. As per reports, the charge of rape could not be proved against the prime accused. In December of that year, the CBI charged the four accused with gang rape and murder based on the dying declarations of the victim naming her assailants.

The case 

The 19-year-old woman was allegedly gang-raped by four men from her village on September 14, 2020. She was found an hour after the incident by her mother in a pool of blood with her tongue mutilated. 

She was taken to a hospital at Chandpa and eventually shifted to a Delhi hospital where she died in a fortnight. In her last days, she recorded videos in which she accused the men of raping and trying to kill her. 

Following her death, the victim was cremated in the middle of the night in her village near Hathras. Her family members claimed that the cremation, which took place well past midnight, was without their consent and they were not allowed to bring home the body one last time.

The family had also alleged that the police at the Chandpa station had delayed the filing of an FIR against the gangrape when they approached. Several official bodies in Uttar Pradesh including the police had initially tried to dismiss the case as “fake news” with social media handles of the Agra Police, Hathras District Magistrate, and UP's Information & Public Relations denying the incident occurred. Later, UP Police maintained that no evidence of rape had been found in forensic examinations. 

The outrage 

The case triggered outrage and put the Yogi Adityanath government in the dock over law and order in the state. It also raised concerns about growing caste-based gender violence and cases of caste atrocities and raised questions about the role of the police and local authorities in shielding the upper caste accused. 

The issue soon snowballed into a political slugfest as several political leaders including Rahul and Sonia Gandhi were stopped by UP Police from meeting the family of the Hathras victims. 

The verdict comes nearly a month after the release of Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan who walked out of jail on February 2, having secured bail after two years of being behind bars under terror charges. Kappan was first arrested on terror charges in October 2020 while he was on his way to Uttar Pradesh to report on the Hathras gangrape case. The arrest also roused widespread outrage against alleged attempts by the UP government of trying to muzzle media. 

The verdict

As per the chargesheet filed by CBI in the SC/ST court in Hathras, all four accused had been charged with murder and gang rape, and under sections of the SC/ST Act.

Following over two years of hearing, the court has held the prime accused held Sandeep (20) guilty under section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code, a lesser charge than section 302 (murder). Ravi (35), Luv Kush (23) and Ramu (26) were acquitted. The court also slapped a fine of Rs 50,000 against Sandeep.

The verdict has nevertheless not been met with satisfaction.  Lawyer Seema Kushwaha, who is representing the Dalit woman's family, said they will challenge the verdict in the high court.

Meanwhile, following the life incarceration sentence, the accused Sandeep’s lawyer has also claimed that his client is innocent. “We will appeal in the high court against the conviction," he said

In the wake of the skewed verdict, Outlook revisits its 2021 cover issue on caste and the multiple stories of gender and caste-based violence against women it has since covered including the story of the Hathras victims’ family, who had become outcasts in their own village. In 2021, on the first year of the horrific gang rape, the family had told Outlook how they justice had been denied and how their lives had changed since the incident. Other stories include a spirited piece on the need to “politicization of the Hathras rape” through the lens of caste-based gender violence and an analysis of a poet's comment on a post-truth world in the context of the brutality and how society ensures the perpetuation of such crimes: "it will happen again".

(With inputs from PTI)