The High Court in Uttar Pradesh today said the cremation of the 20-year-old woman in Hathras by the state authorities, though done in the name of law and order, "is prima facie an infringement upon the human rights of the victim and her family". The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had taken up the case amid the countrywide outrage over the brutal torture and alleged gangrape of the woman and the subsequent 2 am cremation by the police.
In its order after yesterday's hearing, the court -- which is examining the role of the police in the matter, including the secret cremation -- said the woman was "at least entitled to decent cremation in accordance with her religious customs and rituals, which essentially are to be performed by her family".
"Cremation is one of the 'Sanskars' i.e., antim sanskar (funeral) recognized as an important ritual which could not have been compromised taking shelter of law and order situation," the court said.
The judges also warned against "character assassination" of the 20-year-old. "No one should indulge in character assassination of the victim just as the accused should not be pronounced guilty before a fair trial," the court said.
With four so-called upper caste men accused the case, the community has been vocal in defending them. Several rounds of meetings have been held over the last weeks, and there have been claims that one of the men had been in a relationship with her. It was her family that was involved in her death, in what is known as honour killing, the community claimed.
There have been reports that the family was alerted about the relationship after more than a hundred phone calls between the woman and the accused.
The claims of no wrongdoing by the accused gathered steam after forensic reports negated the possibility of rape. The question, though, remains open since the samples were collected days after the alleged event.
Yesterday, the court reminded the police about the rape laws, which accept a dying declaration from an assaulted woman as a fact.
"How do you know she wasn't raped? Has the investigation concluded? Please go through the new rape law of 2013," the court told senior police officer Prashant Kumar.
The woman, a member of the Scheduled Castes, had died at a Delhi hospital after fighting for her life for two weeks. Half strangled, bearing multiple fractures, naked, bleeding and paralysed, she was left for dead in a field by her so-called upper caste attackers on September 14.
The police cremated the body around 2 am, without allowing the family to hold last rites or even allowing them a last glimpse. They were kept locked up inside their house and not allowed to attend the funeral.