The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard a plea that sought a court-monitored investigation in the Hathras incident pertaining to the death of an 18-year-old Dalit girl who alleged she was gang-raped by four upper-caste men. In an unusual move, the victim's body was then cremated by the Uttar Pradesh Police in the early hours of the morning.
The three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde expressed their shock over the "extraordinary" and "horrible incident" and asked the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government what it was doing to protect the victim's family.
The plea was filed by a retired judicial officer who sought a court-monitored investigation in the case by an agency other than the state police. The plea also sought for the registration of an FIR against concerned officials if allegations that the deceased victim was treated in an undignified and inhuman manner were proven true.
Normally, the state government in question file their replies in a petition after it is served on them. However, the state government filed their reply in this issue even before the matter was heard by the Supreme Court.
In its detailed reply, the state submitted that it had already requested the Centre to take over the investigation through the CBI which would "ensure that no vested interests will be able to create a fake and false narrative with oblique motives."
'False narrative peddled to malign the UP government'
The UP government filed a reply in this issue submitting that several sections of the media and rival political parties used the incident to peddle a fake narrative in an "orchestrated effort to malign the image" of the state government.
"A different and false narrative has started gaining momentum at the behest of some vested interests on social media by attributing baseless comments and building up a distorted narrative on the Hathras case, the state told the SC. "Sections of the media are deliberately interfering with the process (investigation) and not permitting the truth to be unveiled and the guilty punished," the state added.
The affidavit cited "diverse examples of fake news from across the country and from fake and verified handles from people of different political spectrums", to "clearly" point "towards a conspiracy fomented by rival political parties to defame and discredit" the state government.
"The proxy war of political parties fought by their members directly and through several fake handles by propagating fake news through sheer copy-paste of content is an obvious attempt to tarnish the image of dignitaries of the government of UP through sheer propaganda," the state said. "Such vicious propaganda is also leading to a law and order situation in various districts where the district units of rival political parties are instigating and mobilizing the people to come on the streets to hold protests based on such doctored images and baseless allegations," it added.
Intelligence inputs prompted pre-dawn cremation
The affidavit said the district administration received intelligence inputs that the situation was being "exploited" by giving it a "caste/communal colour". Intelligence inputs suggested that "lakhs of protestors of both communities/caste along with supporters of political parties and sections of the media will assemble on September 30 which is likely to turn violent" prompting the pre-dawn cremation of the victim's body.
The Intelligence inputs further pointed out that there was a "high alert due to Babri Masjid Verdict and large gatherings were banned by the Centre in light of the pandemic in light of the novel coronavirus. "In such extraordinary and severe circumstances, the district administration took the decision to convince the parents of the deceased to cremate her with all religious rites at night to avoid large scale violence in the morning…"
"Once postmortem is done, there cannot be any bad intention on part of anyone to expedite the cremation except to obviate the potential violent situation resulting from planned caste divide by certain vested interests," the affidavit said. Members of the print and electronic media having an "oblique motive" even tried to openly tell the family members of the deceased to stop the cremation unless all their demands were met and tried to stop them from performing the cremation, it added.
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