Asia Outrage over girls' death: Villagers don't let officials bury Unnao victims

Outrage over girls’ death: Villagers don’t let officials bury Unnao victims

Girls' deaths spark outrage

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Unnao — Angry relatives and villagers on Thursday refused to let officials bury two Dalit girls found dead in a field in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district and demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe, as police said a preliminary autopsy found no injuries on the victims and didn’t mention sexual assault.

Three Dalit girls, aged 13, 15 and 16, were found unconscious in a field in Unnao late on Wednesday. Two of them died soon after, and the third, the oldest, was in a critical condition in a Kanpur hospital.

The Uttar Pradesh Police, under pressure after alleged investigation lapses and forced cremation of a Dalit gang rape victim in Hathras last October, registered a case of murder and concealment of evidence against unknown persons, and picked up six people for questioning. Two of these were male cousins of the victims, and the rest were men from a neighbouring village.

The families of the girls, however, demanded a federal probe, indicating they weren’t satisfied with the initial probe and arrests by UP Police. It was also unclear why a concealment of evidence charge was included in the FIR.

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“We want a CBI inquiry because our girls were murdered and we are being harassed. We have no enmity with anyone in the area and police should release our two relatives,” said the mother of one of the victims.

“We are sure the girls were murdered; it is common in this area,” said the mother of another girl. Local officials and the victims’ families faced off twice during the day.

The first was in the morning after police erected barricades at four spots, and brought in earth movers. Hundreds of local villagers confronted officials supervising the digging of graves with JCB machines and said they won’t allow the burial of victims.

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“Everyone believed the police were trying to cover up the incident, and came out on the street,” said Shashi Pal, a local villager.

Their apprehension was perhaps based on how the UP Police cremated the Hathras victim in the middle of the night against the wishes of her family — an act the Allahabad high court later described as “violation of human rights”.

Late on Thursday, the administration called back the JCB machines, minutes after the bodies of the victims arrived in the village after autopsy.

Family members threw themselves before the machine in protest and said they would not allow the burial because it violated local customs. “The burial cannot take place at night. It will happen after my sons return to the house,” said the father of one victim.

Police said the post-mortem report couldn’t ascertain the cause of death, and the remains will be sent for forensic analysis. “The doctors found no external or internal injuries on the girls’ bodies. There is no mention of sexual assault in the medical examination reports,” said UP director general of police Hitesh Chandra Awasthi. “We are taking help of forensic experts and looking into all possibilities,” he said.

A panel of four doctors confirmed that a substance was found in the victims’ abdomen. This unidentified substance, they said, was smelly and frothy.

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The report also suggested the girls ate a meal of rice and dal around six hours before they died. “Around 80 to 100 grams of undigested food was found in abdomen. Lab test will determine if the food was poisoned,” said an official aware of developments.

Family members said the girls were close friends and left together to bring fodder from a field 1.5km from their house. They bought a packet of chips from a local shop around 3.30pm. It was the last anyone saw them. Their bodies were discovered by the families around 9.30pm.

A medical bulletin by the Kanpur hospital said the third girl was in a critical but stable condition. “On primary assessment, she was found in shock, a suspected case of poisoning,” the bulletin read.

Authorities said chief minister Yogi Adityanath took “serious note” of the incident and sought a detailed report. He directed officials to ensure proper treatment of the teenager. Awasthi said six police teams were constituted and senior officials were supervising the probe.

But the victims’ families protested at the police’s decision to interrogate relatives.

A police officer said one cousin was questioned because he was among the first people to locate the body. The second cousin was allegedly unable to explain his absence during a period of four hours on Wednesday.

A second police officer also pointed to an alleged contradiction in the statements of the victims’ kin. The brother being questioned said the girls’ hands were tied with a dupatta while the mother of another girl said the dupatta was fastened around their necks. The autopsy report found no injury marks on the neck, hand or legs.

Throughout the day, politicians, including from the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Bharatiya Janata Party and Bhim Army, thronged the village. Opposition leaders blamed the UP government and compared the incident to the gangrape in Hathras.

“The UP government is not only crushing Dalit society, but also the honour and human rights of women,” former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted. Congress leader Alka Lamba alleged the UP government was trying to stop the media. Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad demanded that the surviving girl should be airlifted to AIIMS for better treatment.

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