The UN asked for quick justice on Monday in a case where a 19-year-old woman was allegedly gang raped and murdered three weeks ago.
The main opposition party in the Indian National Congress has held nationwide protests demanding a court-driven probe into the incident.
“It is essential that authorities ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice speedily, and families are empowered to seek timely justice, social support, counseling, health care and rehabilitation,” the UN said in a statement.
The alleged crime took place on Sept. 14 in the Boolgarhi village of Hathras district in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The UN added: “The recent cases of alleged rape and murder in Hathras and Balarampur are another reminder that, despite the impressive progress made on several social indicators, women and girls from disadvantaged social groups face additional vulnerabilities and are at greater risk of gender-based violence.”
The call for action was issued as mass protests broke out across the country, with the Congress seeking a “judicial inquiry by a sitting Supreme Court judge,” according to Congress member Sushmita Dev.
It follows an announcement by the Uttar Pradesh government on Saturday that the incident would be investigated by the central government’s premier investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
“Since Sept. 14, it is proved that the whole administration of the state government, all the officers are involved in suppressing the facts,” Dev said.
“We also saw how a particular caste group is threatening the victim’s family, and the local administration is a mute witness. The CBI inquiry has been ordered under pressure from the opposition. The judicial enquiry is only way out,” she added.
The incident, involving a lower caste Dalit woman from India’s most socially and economically marginalized community, has touched a raw nerve following reports that she was brutally gang raped, resulting in a broken spine and her tongue being cut out. After two weeks in the hospital, she died from her injuries on Sept. 29.
A day later, police cremated the body without family consent, raising suspicions of foul play and an alleged attempt to protect the four accused, who are from the upper caste sections of society.
After the hasty cremation, police officials sealed off the entire village for two days, before confiscating the mobile phones of the victim’s family and barring journalists from entering the village.
Reports have emerged that the local district magistrate also threatened the girl’s father to change his statement.
“We don’t trust the intentions of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government and the way it has been behaving since the beginning of the incident. Its only intention is to protect the upper caste people who belong to Adityanath’s caste,” said Kavita Krishnan, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.
On Monday, more than 2,000 people from civil society groups gathered at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar area, a famous protest site in the capital, and burned an effigy of Adityanath.
“Adityanath is openly trying to protect the accused and denying the rape and attempted murder of the young girl, despite the fact the girl in her statement has openly said she was raped by upper-caste men,” Krishnan said.
“This is not only gender-based violence, but also caste-based violence. The chief minister is promoting the caste supremacists in the area and allowing them to threaten the family.
“The way the state government has allowed evidence to be destroyed by the hurried cremation of the body and Adityanath’s signaling to his caste men to come out openly in favor of the accused threatens the whole notion of fair investigation. If the caste violence breaks out it has potential to spread to other places, considering the composition of villages in western Uttar Pradesh where only a few lower-caste families live in predominantly upper-caste villages,” Krishnan added.
On Sunday, several members from the upper-caste community in the village launched a counter-campaign and held a meeting at the home of a former legislator of Hathras from the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party.
The group demanded “justice for all four accused.”
“I feel the way the media has taken up the issue is completely wrong. The media has launched an open trial. The whole state has been put under shame for raising the wrong issue continuously,” BJP member and former legislator Rajveer Singh Pahalwan told Arab News.
He added that the media has “already convicted the accused without investigation and trial.”
Pahalwan said: “Under intense political pressure all four have been detained.”
Police resorted to using batons on party leaders trying to meet the victim’s family, citing the need to follow coronavirus measures.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has also accused the opposition of trying to incite “caste violence.”
He said in a statement in the state capital Lucknow: “Those who do not like development want to incite caste and communal riots in the country and state, and want to stop development.”