Calls for justice mount after Dalit girl’s rape

  • The girl, from a Dalit family, in Purani Nangal village near Delhi cantonment, was found dead by her parents in a local crematorium on Sunday night
The pyre where the Dalit girl was cremated. ht photo PREMIUM
The pyre where the Dalit girl was cremated. ht photo
Updated on Aug 05, 2021 04:07 AM IST
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ByAbhishek Dey, New Delhi

Mounting protests over the alleged rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in southwest Delhi took a political turn on Wednesday as Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited the victim’s family and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the Opposition of politicising the tragedy.

Kejriwal ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident, announced financial assistance of 10 lakh for the girl’s family and said the city government would appoint top lawyers to represent them.

“The injustice done to the family is unfortunate and cannot be compensated, but the government will give 10 lakh to them and order a magisterial inquiry into the matter,” he told reporters. “There is a need to strengthen law and order in Delhi. I appeal to the central government to take firm steps in this direction,” he added.

In the morning, Gandhi met the parents of the girl and assured them of all help and support.

“The tears of the parents of the girl say one thing – that their daughter, who is the daughter of the nation, deserves justice. And, in this journey towards justice, I stand with them,” he tweeted in Hindi after the meeting.

The BJP accused the Opposition of politicking.

“It is unfortunate that they choose to see rapes and deaths of girls in those states where they are not in power and not in the states like Punjab and Rajasthan, where they have their governments,” Union minister Anurag Thakur told reporters.

The girl, from a Dalit family, in Purani Nangal village near Delhi cantonment, was found dead by her parents in a local crematorium on Sunday night.

The accused — a 55-year-old priest and three of his associates — say the girl died of electrocution while fetching water from a cooler but the family alleges that the suspects hurriedly cremated the body after raping her.

The four accused -- who have been booked under sections pertaining to rape, murder and threatening charges, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act -- are in jail.

Brinda Karat, leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), wrote to Union home minister Amit Shah, demanding his intervention.

In a statement, Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta said, “We have assured the family that they shall get justice and the persons held guilty will get the strictest punishment... We demand that the police file a chargesheet in 15 days and the case to be taken up in a fast-track court.”

Autopsy inconclusive, protests swell

Police transferred the case to the crime branch and seized clothes worn by the four suspects on the day of the incident and sent it for forensic examination. An investigating officer said the clothes will be tested for DNA samples to ascertain if the nine-year-old girl was raped on the day of the incident.

The three-member medical board conducting the autopsy of the child’s body told police it will be impossible to arrive at a conclusion because only charred remains were available for them to examine, said a senior police official.

Since Sunday night, an arterial road near Delhi cantonment has been blocked by protesters from the Dalit community who accuse the police of lax action and demand justice.

On Wednesday, demonstrators swelled with people arriving from across the National Capital Region and towns further away, including Panipat in Haryana and Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh.

Several demanded capital punishment for the perpetrators.

“We learnt about the protest on social media. It is necessary to show solidarity in such matters. Cases of violence against Dalits are increasing across the country,” said Rajesh Raj Jeevan, a 35-year-old social worker from Aligarh.

Jaswindra Pahalwan, a 30-year-old protester from Haryana’s Sonepat, said: “The perpetrators should be hanged. It is an instance of violence against children, against women and against vulnerable groups. Only harsh punishment can help set an example.”

Local mood

Dalits form roughly 20% of the Capital’s 20 million population and Valmikis -- the caste of the victim -- form around two-thirds of the scheduled caste population.

Purani Nangal has a population of around 7,000, according to records of revenue department of the Delhi government, including around 100 families belonging to the Valmiki caste. Most of them are sanitation workers, drivers, factory workers or people engaged in menial jobs.

Many houses have blue-coloured walls and tiles with pictures of Ravidas – a 14th century saint revered by Dalits — along with other Hindu deities.

Over the last 30 years, the village has turned into an unauthorised colony with concrete houses, said Ram Sahai, a migrant from Rajasthan who settled in the village around 40 years ago with his family and took up sanitation work.

A part of the village is inhabited by upper castes – many of whom are Brahmins, Thakurs and Banias.

“The village has no record of enmity between caste groups. However, there have been at least two incidents of rape in the last three months. This is a major law and order issue...,” said Arun, a resident of the Valmiki colony in the village who uses only his first name.

Amit Sharma, an upper-caste resident of the village, said, “This is more of a law-and-order related issue. The police and government should be more vigilant. This has got nothing to do with caste. This village has no record of caste violence.”

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