Women's rights activists Wednesday slammed the Uttar Pradesh government for cremating the body the 19-year-old Hathras gang-rape victim in the dead of night allegedly without her family's consent and said she was robbed of dignity even in death.
The woman was allegedly raped at a village in Hathras by four men on September 14, and she breathed her last on Tuesday at Delhi's Safdarjung hospital.
Her body was cremated in the early hours of Wednesday, with her family alleging the local police forced them to conduct the last rites in the dead of the night.
Local police officers, however, told PTI the cremation was carried out "as per the wishes of the family".
Women rights activists called the whole incident appalling and shocking.
"This horror gives you the full picture of what this crime is all about," Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of All India Progressive Women's Association, told PTI.
"The refusal of the UP government and its machinery to allow a Dalit family the right to grieve their daughter and bid her farewell in keeping with their own emotions and customs reeks of caste supremacy," she said.
She said there is a lot of focus on the horrific nature of the injuries that the woman suffered, but insufficient focus on the alleged systemic horror the Uttar Pradesh state "inflicted" on her and her family.
"When the family found her and she was taken to the police station, the police said she is trying to trap people and then she was hospitalised and not kept in the ICU for six days and then on her death the police blamed the victim's family and they are denying this Dalit family and victim dignity even in death and mourning," she said.
Yogita Bhayana, who heads the People Against Rape in India (PARI), said there is something "very fishy" about way the last rite happened.
"This is very fishy and as it seems like the last nail in the coffin that they were not even allowed to perform the last rites," she told the news agency.
"In the history of cases that I have dealt with and I have known this has never happened and this makes it murkier and fishier. There is something they are trying to hide and it is so evident. This is something beyond human rights violation," she said.
"It is the newest low. Even in the Nirbhaya case, there was nothing like this. In none of the cases, this has happened. The family deserves an answer. They (the government) can only do this to a Dalit family...they knew the caste would not retaliate so they did this," she claimed.
Women rights activist Shamina Shafiq also mentioned 2012 gang-rape and murder of Nirbhaya in Delhi.
"The government then took it sensitively. She (Nirbhaya) was airlifted to Singapore so that her life could be saved. Then prime minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi actually went to the airport to receive her body.
"Her family was given respect, though law and order failed. Now, look at (this case) in comparison. Even Hindu rituals do not allow cremation after the sunset. Why did it happen?" she asked.
"When this girl was gang-raped why she was not airlifted to AIIMS. These people do not care about giving respect to women. It is just sloganeering happening. It is happening because she is a Dalit girl. Just because there are no elections in Uttar Pradesh and she was a Dalit girl this happened," she said.
Women rights activist Shabnam Hashmi said growing instances of attacks on women are shocking.
"From 2014-2018, there have been 1.75 lakh rapes in this country, and the last two year's data is not even added to these statistics. The way attacks on women are increasing is unprecedented and there is total impunity," she said.
"It is absolutely a new low but this is not going to decrease at all," she said, adding laws cannot stop rapes from happening. "If the mindset is being polluted and polluted so much then what can laws do?"
The woman's family had left Safdarjung hospital in Delhi on Tuesday night amid a heavy police deployment. Her body was taken by the Uttar Pradesh police, which reached Hathras earlier than the family members, claimed a family member of the woman.
"The cremation was performed around 2.30 am - 3 am," her father told PTI Wednesday morning.
In the moments preceding the cremation, a brother of the woman told PTI: "Police have forcibly taken the body and my father along with them for cremation. When my father reached Hathras, he was immediately taken (to the crematorium) by the police."
Another family member said the woman's father was accompanied by 30 to 40 people, mainly relatives and others from their neighbourhood, to the crematorium near Bool Garhi village, under Chandpa police station limits, in the district of western Uttar Pradesh.