The family of a 13-year-old girl who died after being thrown off a bus in Punjab’s Moga by her molesters refused to cremate her or allow a post-mortem on Friday amid a tense standoff between the state government and opposition parties.
Leaders from the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party joined the family in protest outside the hospital where the mother of the teenager — also pushed out of the bus — was admitted. They demanded the administration cancel the permits of the transport company that owned the vehicle and lodge a case against its directors.
The opposition also targeted Punjab’s ruling Badal family that owns the transport firm in question, Orbit Aviation, as angry protests spilled onto the streets in several parts of the state.
Pushed onto the back foot, the Badal administration went into damage-control mode as deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal finally admitted on Friday that the bus belonged to a company owned by his family, a day after the girl died of her injuries.
“The fact (of ownership of the bus company) only adds to our responsibility. It is absurd even to think that the incident of the company’s ownership should allow such brutality and brazenness to go unpunished,” said the 52-year-old, who also holds the home portfolio.
“It’s absurd even to think that the incident of the company’s ownership should allow such brutality and brazenness to go unpunished,” he added, after a flurry of media reports quoted his wife and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s election affidavit that stated she had a stake in Orbit Aviation, the company that owned the bus.
The incident caused uproar in Parliament with opposition parties denouncing the Parkash Singh Badal government for the law and order situation in the state but Kaur had refused to answer questions of company ownership. “I don’t know who owns the bus,” Kaur had said.
The mother told the police she and her daughter boarded the bus from Moga at around 4pm on Wednesday and were pushed off after being subjected to indecent gestures and lewd comments following an altercation over ticket pricing. Four people have been arrested in the case and sent to four days in police custody.
But even three days after the incident, no leader of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal or the BJP visited the grieving family in the hospital owing to a bevy of protesters outside demanding a police complaint against Sukhbir. The government, however, announced a high-level committee to ensure safety in public transport.
I want the criminals to be punished. I dont want money, I want justice: Father of deceased girl, Moga Incident pic.twitter.com/VMitloJZCh— ANI (@ANI_news) May 1, 2015
The incident has sparked widespread outrage with many likening it to the December 16, 2012, gangrape in Delhi that galvanised the nation against crimes against women and sparked massive protests by civil rights groups and ordinary citizens.
In Punjab, opposition parties called for the resignation of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Harsimrat Kaur. Top police officials, however, insisted there was no evidence to link the bus owners to the crime.
AAP MP Bhagwant Mann said if the entire top management was questioned after Union minister Smriti Irani found a CCTV camera directed at a changing room, different yardsticks shouldn’t be adopted in this case.
The family was ready to accept Rs 20 lakh in compensation and a government job for one of its members but the demand for cancellation of permits remained a hurdle with a second round of talks expected on Saturday morning.
Expressing his “deepest sorrow and outrage” over the tragedy, Sukhbir promised exemplary punishment for the culprits but also hit out at the opposition for politicising the incident.
“Instead of assuaging the wounded feelings of the family, the opposition leaders have been gleefully latching on to it as an opportunity to buy their lost political relevance in Punjab,” he said.
Anger mounted in Moga town, especially after another young woman alleged she was gang-raped by her friend’s husband and four others, hours after the teenage girl died. The victim said in her complaint that the men took her to a nearby field and allegedly raped her. Police has arrested one suspect and is looking for the others.
(with inputs from agencies)