Thursday, August 5 2021

Dive In

I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.

That’s WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus shaming rich countries that are getting ready to give booster shots to their citizens—out of fear of the Delta variant. Israel has already started, and the UK is gearing up to begin doling them out in September. Point to note: high- and upper-middle income countries have taken more than 80% of the global vaccine doses to date, even though they account for less than half of the world’s population.

Big Story

Editor’s note: The second episode of splainer’s podcast ‘Press Decode’ is up! This week, Adya, Vagda, Ragini and Sara talk about the tricky intersection of gender, mental health and sports—i.e. the ‘girls don’t whine’ debate over Simone Biles. And the big ‘screen it or stream it’ controversy over ‘Black Widow’.  Be sure to listen and share. And we’d love to get your feedback! Head over to the IVM website, Spotify, Apple podcasts.


Content advisory: This is a horrific story about rape and murder but there are NO descriptions of either.


The death of a child

The TLDR: Earlier this week—in the midst of a heady celebration of India’s daughters winning Olympic medals—a nine-year old Dalit girl was allegedly gangraped, killed and forcibly cremated in Delhi. The tragedy did not make front page news. This is her story.


The little girl: was the only child of a poor Dalit family that lived in the Delhi Cantonment area. Her parents are ragpickers, and the family would often beg for alms at a local Sufi shrine. 


The killing & cremation: Here’s what happened:

  • On Sunday evening, the family returned from the shrine, and the father headed out to buy vegetables. He asked the child to get some water from a cooler installed at the nearby crematorium.
  • But an hour passed and the child did not return. There are two media accounts of what happened next. 
  • One: The mother went in search of the little girl and found her lying dead at the crematorium: “Her lips were torn, her tongue was blue, her eyes would not close, and she had bruises on left arm. Her shirt and undies were wet. I couldn’t bear to look at her.”
  • Two: The priest at the crematorium, Radhey Shyam, came in search of the mother: “Later, the pandit ji and some others came to me and said she was dead. I rushed to the crematorium.”
  • But there is no discrepancy about what followed. The priest insisted the child had been electrocuted while trying to get water. And Shyam pushed the mother to cremate the child immediately—telling her, “Hurry up the cremation or the cops will conduct a post mortem and doctors will steal her organs.”
  • Shyam also said: “You will be ruined. You are so poor, how will you fight a case? Your child will be cremated. There’s no need to call anyone. Just sit here. Are you hungry? Shall I get you some roti?”
  • Within ten minutes of her arrival—the child was placed on a pyre and set on fire. The priest said: “Don’t shout. Don’t scream. What had to happen has happened. Now why are you screaming? Let’s finish this. And then he set my child on fire.”
  • Shyam then told the mother to go home and “sleep quietly”—and come back in the morning to collect the ashes.


The suspects: Apart from Radhey Shyam (55), the others are two crematorium employees Lakshmi Narayan (43), Kuldeep (63)—plus a local resident named Mohammed Salim (49). Yes, these are all middle-aged men who allegedly raped and killed a nine-year old child. Local residents also had this to say about their activities at the crematorium:


“They would do all sorts of wrong activities there. They sit together the entire time — gamble, drink alcohol and even take drugs. We have also come to know that they would call young children to the crematorium and make them massage them.”


Point to note: Two women were raped inside the same crematorium in June. The suspects in that case are two Army men.


The police in (in)action

While the child was on the pyre, the commotion at the crematorium attracted a crowd—who broke through the locked gate and entered along with the child’s father. The priest and three other crematorium employees tried to flee, but were caught by the crowd—and handed over to the police who only arrived around 10:45 pm. Here’s what the police did then:


Puzzling inaction: They made no attempt to douse the pyre which was still burning. A witness said


“I asked them, ‘Why are you not trying to stop the fire? How will you collect evidence?’. They didnt do anything. When I tried to pour a bucket of water to prevent the body from burning, one policeman caught my hand and told me not to do that.”  


The villagers finally put the fire out—and all that remained of the little girl were her feet, bit of her scalp and hip. 


The harassment: They took the parents to the police station—where the two were detained for 15 hours, allegedly to record “their statement correctly.”  The mother says, “They took our statement and then just made us sit inside. We were given food only the next day.” She also claims that a man in civilian clothes beat up her husband and threatened to do the same to her: “He kept saying we were lying and that we should keep quiet.”


Resisting the rape charge: Police had initially only registered charges of culpable homicide, wrongful confinement and destruction of evidence. The mother says:


“We repeatedly told them that she had been assaulted sexually but they wouldn’t listen. They did this because she’s a Dalit. They took us to the police station and kept us there all night, until the next day afternoon. They tried to scare us and threatened us into taking back the rape charge.”


The neighbours confirm the mother’s account, but the police insists, “The mother hadn’t mentioned rape charges in her initial statement to the police, so it wasn’t added.” The rape charges were finally added after the family made a statement to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.


The current charges: The case has been registered under Indian Penal Code’s sections 302 (murder), 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation), 204 (destruction of evidence)—plus other sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the SC/ST Act. The case has been transferred to the crime branch—and the suspects will be subjected to a lie-detector test next.


Point to note: The medical board which conducted a post-mortem informed the police that it was unable to confirm the cause of death due to the state of the body.


The fallout



In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • A big crisis at Vodafone
  • Kerala Court redefines rape
  • An ancient ‘intersex’ (re)discovery
  • An insane case of inflight rage


Reading Habit

  • Ameya Nagarajan—co-host of the podcast ‘Fat. So?’ takes our Book Addict’s Quiz.

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