Anger in India after ‘gang rape’ and forced cremation of nine-year-old Dalit girl

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Watch: Death of child prompts protests over rape in India

The horrifying case of an alleged gang rape, killing and forcible cremation of a nine-year-old girl from the Dalit community in India – historically one of the most oppressed in India – has sparked public anger, massive protests and become a political controversy.

The girl was the daughter of a poor ragpicker couple who supplemented their meagre income by begging at a shrine in national capital Delhi’s Nangli area.

On Sunday, the girl’s father asked her to get water from the cooler of a nearby crematorium.

Members of the Congress women’s wing protest against the alleged rape, murder and forceful cremation of a nine-year-old girl in Delhi (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Members of the Congress women’s wing protest against the alleged rape, murder and forceful cremation of a nine-year-old girl in Delhi (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

When the girl did not return after an hour, the mother went to the crematorium, only to find her daughter’s motionless body lying on a bench, her tongue blue and with bruises on some parts of her body, according to accounts.

The crematorium priest, along with three others, approached the woman and told her the child had been electrocuted while fetching water and insisted on a swift cremation for the girl.

“Go home and sleep. Don’t shout and cry about it,” the priest told the mother, according to her. The priest also reportedly offered to perform the girl’s final rights.

“When I went there he informed me that my daughter was dead. I asked how she died. I told them to dial ‘100’ and call the police. He refused,” the mother told news channel NDTV.

“He pressured me to cremate the body immediately and dissuaded me from calling the cops. He said if you call the cops there will be a long court case, my daughter would be taken to the hospital where the police and doctors would take out her organs and sell them,” she added.

The priest then began performing the cremation, which involves burning the body, with the family being forced to sit at a distance. The family, however, protested against the cremation, forcing the involvement of several other villagers, who doused the fire.

All that subsequently remained of the girl were her feet, some of her scalp and a portion of her hip, according to news website Newslaundry.

The four accused, including the priest were subsequently arrested after family protests. Since the body of the girl was largely cremated, medical examiners “could not ascertain anything based on the remaining parts of the body,” according to Ingit Pratap Singh, a senior Delhi police official.

Police forensic units will now test other evidence, including bodily fluids from the girl’s clothes to examine claims of sexual assault.

The victim’s mother has also alleged that officers made her and the husband wait in separate rooms at a police station for several hours, and alleges police beat her husband.

The shocking incident has become the focal point of local fury and national outrage, sparking protests in the area.

The chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, subsequently visited the family after being accused of remaining silent over the alleged crime. He announced a compensation of Rs 1 million (£ 9,698) for the family and ordered a judicial enquiry.

The incident has also snowballed into a political controversy, with Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, visiting the girl’s family.

“I spoke with the family... they want justice and nothing else. They’re saying justice is not being given to them and that they should be helped. We will do that,” Mr Gandhi said.

The four accused, meanwhile, face charges under laws including those that cover child sex abuse and crimes against scheduled castes and tribes.

The incident has been compared to one that occurred in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in September last year, where a Dalit teen was hurriedly cremated without the consent of the parents after being allegedly gang raped and killed.

India has a systemic problem of crimes against not just historically oppressed communities, but also against women and other genders.

Members of the lower castes are particularly vulnerable to such crimes, with the country’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) pointing to more than 45,000 cases registered against Scheduled Castes, with 3,486 cases coming under rape in 2019.

The number of criminal cases for crimes against Scheduled Tribes was more than 8,000, with 1,110 of these being rape cases, according to NCRB data.

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