The horror that is Hathras
Trigger warning: This explainer includes descriptions of sexual assault.
The TLDR: Social media outrage. Nationwide protests. Raging TV coverage and news headlines. But none of it made the slightest difference to the police who forcibly cremated the gangrape victim in the middle of the night—locking her family into their home. Why this brazen indifference? The answer: The victim was a woman. She was Dalit. And she lived in Uttar Pradesh.
A quick timeline
- She is described as a shy teenager “fond of making mehndi, drawing rangolis.”
- She belonged to a handful of Dalit families in a village dominated by Yadavs and Brahmins. Her mother kept her and her two sisters at home: “The school is far away… It was unsafe.”
- She drew the attention of the son of a wealthy landowner who began to harass her. She grew afraid and stayed indoors—refusing to go to the market even though she loved buying bangles and other pretty stuff.
- On September 14, she went to the fields to collect grass to feed the cattle.
- Four upper caste men overpowered and raped her—attacking her with stones. The injuries were serious and extensive. Her tongue had been cut off, and her spinal cord and neck seriously damaged.
- She languished in a hospital in Aligarh for days, receiving poor medical attention—her limbs entirely paralysed.
- She was finally shifted to Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi on Monday—and died there on Tuesday, after a 14-day struggle.
- The government did not summon the best doctors to save her life—or fly her to Singapore to receive treatment. In fact, the police rebuffed the family’s request that she be admitted to AIIMS. The reason: There was no available bed.
- No one in the national media paid attention until she died. There were no mass protests or prayers while she fought for her life.
- She was no Nirbhaya.
Murder: The police charged the four men—Sandeep Singh, Lavkush Kumar Singh, Ramu Singh and Ravi Kumar Singh—with attempted murder. According to their account, she received her injuries when the men tried to strangle her. Upon her death, that charge has been changed to murder.
Rape: The men were not charged with any kind of sexual offence until September 19, when the police added ‘molestation’ to the charges. The gang rape did not enter official record until September 22.
The medical record: According to Times of India: “The medical report, based on an examination a week after she had been hospitalised, had not found evidence of rape given the long time that had passed.” Now, the Aligarh police say they have “sent the evidence to a forensic laboratory.” The Hathras police still insist:
“No signs of sexual assault was confirmed by doctors in either Hathras or Aligarh. The matter will be probed by doctors through forensic help. No signs of abrasion were found on the victim's private parts.”
To sum up: She lay in a hospital for two weeks and no one can confirm the cause of her injuries or her death. Her body, however, has already been cremated.
Here’s how the UP police disposed of her body—and we use those words for good reason.
First: She died around 4 am on Tuesday, and her brother waited for them to hand over the body. At 6 am, he learned they had taken her body away—which they kept out of sight all day. At 12:50 am on Wednesday, the police arrived at her home in the village.
Next: Times of India says her father and cousin were in the car, and a policeman was in an ambulance with her body. The police rejected the family’s demand to give her a proper funeral. Watch the police tell her family to accept their “mistakes”:
According to her father, this is what happened next: “The police locked the door of our house from outside while my wife, son, eldest daughter, some other close relatives and I were inside.” Her brother confirms: “We were not allowed to go. We couldn’t even see her face.”
Finally, this: Here’s her uncle’s account of her cremation:
“‘[S]ome policemen grabbed me and forcibly took me to the cremation ground and shot a video to show I had attended the funeral.’ He said that after placing the body on the pyre, ‘the policemen poured a liquid from a plastic container on the pyre and burnt the body.’ He added that no holy water ritual or mukhagni (a fire ritual) was done.”
The Hathras police say: “The police were at the cremation ground to maintain law and order. The victim’s family performed the last rites.” Footage of the cremation suggests otherwise:
These numbers speak for themselves.
One: In 2019, India registered 405,861 cases of crimes against women—including 87 rapes every day. Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 59,853 cases.
Two: Uttar Pradesh also recorded 7,920 attacks on Dalit women between 2014 and 2018—the highest in the country. These included 3,421 cases of assault, 2,410 rapes and 1,870 kidnappings.
Three: Nationwide, a total of 45,935 crimes were committed against members of the Scheduled Castes—an increase of 7.3% over 2018. Top of the chart: Uttar Pradesh with 11,829 cases—followed by Rajasthan (6,794) and Bihar (6,544). The violence against members of Scheduled Tribes has jumped by 26%.
The bottomline: What’s there left to say?
- The Telegraph has the best reporting on the case.
- Indian Express offers a closer look at the victim and her family.
- Reporter Tanushree Pandey’s thread of clips that capture what happened in the lead up to the cremation.
- Anuja Jaiswal has footage of the scene at the cremation here.
- India Today carried the police’s version of the murder.
- In terms of crime data, The Telegraph looks at crimes against Dalit women. The Hindu has the national data on crimes against Dalits.
- Geetika Mantri in The News Minute explains why it is important to talk about caste in the context of crime.