The covert cremation by police of the body of a 19-year-old gang-rape victim early Wednesday triggered protests and condemnations by citizens and activists in India.
The Dalit (lower caste) woman was tortured and gang-raped by four men from an upper caste at her village in Hathras in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Sept. 14. She battled for her life for two weeks before succumbing to her injuries on Tuesday.
In a video going viral on social media, the victim’s mother is seen pleading with police to allow her to see her daughter one last time, and bring her body home, as the police cremated the body amid tight security at 2:30 a.m. early Wednesday (2100GMT Tuesday).
Photos from the village showed a lone pyre guarded by police officials without any family member in sight.
“The local police locked us inside our home and took the body away with them. We do not even know whether they burned her or somebody else,” Om Prakash, the victim’s father, told local outlet The Mojo Story.
The cremation triggered protests from activists and Bollywood celebrities alike.
“Shame on all those who shield people who commit such crimes and all those who cover it up. To deny an already broken grieving family their daughter's last rites are barbaric. Humanity is dead,” tweeted Farhan Akhtar, a Bollywood actor.
With her tongue chopped off and severe injuries to her spinal cord, the young victim breathed her last on Tuesday at a government-run hospital.
The case is being compared to a 2012 case where a 23-year-old girl was brutally raped on board a moving bus. The case drew worldwide criticism of women's safety in India.
“I have written to District Magistrate of Hathras and Hathras Police asking for papers regarding the shocking hushed cremation of the victim by police sans the family's consent,” tweeted Saket Gokhale, a human rights activist., adding: “What happened needs exemplary punishment.”
Following the outrage, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to take firm actions against the culprits.
“We have set up a special investigation team to look into the case. This SIT will report back in seven days. The case will be taken in fast track court,” Adityanath tweeted in Hindi.
Delhi Commissioner for Women Chief Swati Maliwal also wrote to India’s chief justice urging “immediate action on erring officials, strict punishment to rapists and set definite mechanisms in place to ensure no more rapes.”