“Ah! Those people will not perform the last rites of the deceased in the dark of night. This is not possible.” That night, while going to Hathras, I said this in the car with my cameraman Pawan Kumar. A few hours later, I could not believe what I was seeing there. A funeral pyre was lit at 2:30 pm in the dark of night in a village farm in western Uttar Pradesh, where only a handful of policemen were present but no family member was involved. The 20-year-old girl, a victim of gang rape, was being forcibly cremated by the authorities, while family members were locked in her house.
Sanjay Singh’s tweet on Hathras case –
Sanjay Singh’s tweet on the Hathras case – “Ready to keep the victim’s family in their house, in fear of Adityanath Raj ..”
It was a surprising end to the drama of the day, which involved driving about 200 km from Delhi, and by the end no one could know where the girl’s corpse was.
On Tuesday, we left Delhi at around 8 pm and reached Hathras around 11.30 am before the arrival of the police car and corpse.
In a local police station on the way to the victim’s village, we saw that there are many vehicles of police officers standing there. We saw the police commissioner’s car there, then felt that some important meeting would be taking place at the police station. We asked some police officers there if we could meet them? Then I was told that a high level meeting of high-ranking officials is going on there.
However, having such an important meeting at night in a small police station was unnatural. By that time, there was a lot of unease about the corpse and the attitude of the officials. It was not clear by then whether the corpse was in Delhi or in Kanpur or Hathras.
While we were on the way, some local people told on the phone that they had seen some people who were storing wood in the village, it might have been happening for cremation. I felt that it would be more difficult for the police to cremate a corpse in the dark of night. But the scene shown in the local police station made me think that this might happen.
When we reached the boundary of the village, our car was stopped even before entering the village. The police said that if you want to go further, then you have to go on foot.
It was very difficult to cope with this arbitrary ban. Pawan and I started walking through deserted fields in the dark towards the girl’s house about 1.5 km away.
While we were halfway there, a red van suddenly passed from behind, flood light was on it. We were shocked to see her, suddenly she got lost somewhere in the dark. When we reached near the girl’s house at around 12.45 in the night, there was no car there, we started searching where did that car go?
A large number of policemen and local media persons had gathered outside the deceased woman’s house. We asked the Joint Magistrate, Prem Prakash, present there – where is the corpse? He replied, “I do not know, as soon as I get the information, I will tell you.”
Two to three minutes later, an ambulance carrying the corpse and the victim’s family reached the girl’s house. We saw the young woman’s father and brother in a Scorpio behind the ambulance. The ambulance did not stop near the house and she moved forward.
Seeing this, villagers and family started protesting. People started saying that first bring the corpse to the house, otherwise the corpse will not be taken further from this place. They ran after the ambulance and kept saying, “Ambulance will not go ahead.”
I followed the ambulance and ran. The scream of “body will not go ahead” was intensifying. In the midst of this hullabaloo, we saw that Police Officer Gan and the Joint Magistrate wore a helmet. The joint magistrate came and told the local people, “DM Saab is coming.”
The District Magistrate arrived in a short time wearing protective dress and helmet. The girl’s father said, “I take responsibility for cremation. There will be no problem in the morning.” The District Magistrate told them, “You have to do it in the morning or you have to do it now … just do it.”
The DM said, “You were saying on the way that you will do it in the night.”
By now people had started beating the ambulance and its windows. He was brought back to the house and parked outside. Then an officer said, ‘corpses are thrown out’ but nothing like this happened.
Looking at the coffin, the thought ran in my mind that how that girl must have fought for her life for more than 14 days and even after she left this world, her struggle did not end.
As soon as around 2 o’clock in the night, the deceased’s father and some family members went inside the house, the authorities stepped up efforts to convince him to cremate them as soon as possible.
Then the light of Pawan’s camera lit up, I was standing behind him. DM also went inside that house. DM asked Pawan to turn off the camera and leave from there.
I quietly went inside the house and sat behind a family. I hid my mic quietly there so that I could hear their conversation. I felt that they would not have been aware that even a media person was listening to their conversation.
DM again tried to explain. He said, “I will only talk to my father.” Then a policeman also joined the conversation. He began to explain his father emotionally. He said, “This is a very delicate situation. Even I would not be here under normal circumstances.”
Then Tanushree Pandey of India Today journalist started entering the house. Seeing them, the DM said, “Ma’am, we can’t talk in front of you.” He bravely replied, “I have not switched on my camera and mic. Why can’t I stand here?”
That’s when I came out. I saw that the mother of the woman was crying in front of the ambulance by banging her head on the ground, screaming. Then a policeman came to me and took me inside the house, saying that Saab had called everyone. He said, “All journalists have been called there. Our sir will talk to you.”
I knew there would be no one there, it was an attempt to remove the ambulance from the eyes of us. I went back, by then the ambulance engine ran aground and the car drove away. I managed to take a shot of the ambulance and the people running behind.
We also started running after him. When we reached the open ground, we saw two big flood lights. Then I found all the links of my doubt connected. The van we saw on the way was brought for this time to light up there.
However, despite the light, we stayed in the dark. By then the policemen had formed a human chain on the road itself and were not letting the media people go any further. We tried to find the reason but could not get any information.
At around 2.30 pm, we saw that the pyre was set on fire. We reached the fields only then to see clearly. From there I recorded piece-to-camera ‘P2C’.
I was surprised to see how the policeman did everything there. I kept searching there, watching if the victim’s father was there or not?
Then Pawan suggested to us that by walking home, let us see if the family is at home. When we reached home, we saw that the house is locked from inside. I asked about the father. The relatives told that their condition is not good and they are resting. They said that the authorities did not hand over the body to them. Then I told them that he was cremated.
I reached the hotel at around 4 pm. Then I saw a statement given by the Joint Magistrate to the news agency ANI, in which the officials were saying that cremation has been done, and everything is under control there. He said that the police and other officials will ensure that justice is done to the victim.
Emotions were challenging my conscience that night. I did not expect such a cremation but slept with the mind-boggling scenes of fire burning the pyre. Is it not good luck for a poor to die in this country with dignity?