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In Kolkata, a political battle over 16-year-old rape victim's body

In Kolkata, a political battle over 16-year-old rape victim's body
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The girl's father claims she was set on fire by her attackers.

Kolkata After a grotesque battle over her body between the police on one side and her family and the Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPM trade union on the other, the body of the 16-year-old girl, who was gang-raped twice in October and who died of burns in a Kolkata hospital on Tuesday, was finally cremated this evening.

The cremation happened hours after her father claimed she had not set herself on fire, but was set on fire by miscreants harassing her to drop her complaint. (Rape victim's father alleges his daughter was set on fire by her attackers)   

Last night, police hijacked the body while it was on its way from her home to the mortuary where it was to be kept for the night. The police wanted to cremate her quickly to prevent the CPM's trade union, Centre of Indian Trade Unions or CITU, from taking the body in a procession to the burning ghat - a programme CITU had announced.

But they failed because the father, a taxi driver and a CITU loyalist, would not part with the girl's death certificate.

This morning, the battle for the body raged for three hours at the crematorium till the police suddenly gave in. Clearly, it was on instructions from higher ups.

The girl's body was taken to the CITU office, her final journey delayed because her father went to meet the governor demanding punishment for his daughter's rapists and security for his wife and himself.

And then a fresh twist: the father claimed his daughter was murdered.

"My daughter was set on fire. The opposite party burnt her, so that she could not give her statement in court, so that she couldn't identify the culprits, so the case collapses. My daughter has said so in her police statement," the girl's father said.

Ruling Trinamool Congress reacted tersely, attacking the CPM for playing politics over a dead body. "The CPM is constantly trying to tarnish the image of the Bengal government and belittle the people of the state in the eyes of the country," party's general secretary and MP Mukul Roy said.

"The incident is unfortunate. The accused are arrested, they are facing trial. Charges have been framed. What other question is there?" he added.

But there was a storm of protest from the civil society against the gang-rape and what intellectuals described as "body snatching" by the police.   

"I am shocked. This is such a shocking incident. We are all saddened and stunned. Let this stop, that's all I want to say," filmmaker Aparna Sen said.

Activist Saswati Ghosh added, "A girl is gang-raped twice, she is threatened by the rapists friends and then she is burnt. What kind of precedent does it set? The police did nothing to help the girl when she was alive. After she is dead, they play tug of war with her body."

Three questions remain: who ordered the police to snatch the girl's body last night? Today, who ordered the police to give the girl's body back to the family at the crematorium? And finally, the father's allegation that the girl did not set herself on fire, she was set on fire.

Perhaps the answers could be found in the girl's statement to the police. But that is not public property yet.
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