“Shocked” by the alleged gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh and her forcible cremation subsequently, a Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on Thursday summoned top government officials to the court.
A division bench of justices Rajan Roy and Jaspreet Singh ordered Uttar Pradesh additional chief secretary, state police chief and an additional director general of police to appear before it on October 12 to explain the incident.
Taking suo moto cognisance of the case, which has triggered widespread outrage, the bench also ordered Hathras district magistrate and superintendent of police to appear with to apprise the court of various aspects of the case, including the ongoing probe into it.
The court, which appeared especially upset over the police cremating the teen's body overnight allegedly forcibly in Hathras without her parent's consent, asked officials to come prepared with all the relevant material and documents to apprise the court of their versions of the incident.
“The incidents which took place after the death of the victim on September 29, 2020 leading up to her cremation, as alleged, have shocked our conscience. Therefore, we are taking suo moto cognizance of the same,” the bench said in its order.
The bench also asked the late teen's parent to come to the court to apprise it of their versions of the incident and ordered the Hathras district administration to arrange for their travel to the court and facilitate their appearance before it.
In a replication of the December 2012 Nirbhaya case horrors, the Dalit teen was allegedly sexually assaulted by four men on September 14 in a Hathras village and admitted to the AMU's Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Aligarh in a critical condition.
She was on Monday referred to Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital in an extremely critical condition with spinal injuries, paralysis and cuts in her tongue and died on early Tuesday, triggering widespread outrage, protests and calls for justice.
The Hathras police, however, took her body to her native district and allegedly cremated her overnight without her parent's consent.
The judges said they were inclined to examine whether there had been a gross violation of the Fundamental Rights of the deceased and her family members and if the state authorities acted oppressively, high-headedly and illegally to violate these rights.
“The rights of individual citizens in the country and the state especially that of the poor and the downtrodden such as the family members of the deceased victim and the deceased herself are paramount.
"The Courts of Law are under a bounden duty to see that the said rights available under the Constitution are protected at all costs and the state does not, in its misplaced endeavour for political or administrative reasons, transgress the limits of its powers to encroach and violate such rights, especially in the case of poor and the weak,” observed the bench, while summoning UP government officials.
“If it is found to be so, then, this would be a case where accountability will not only have to be fixed but for future guidance, but also stern action would be required,” warned a “shocked” bench
“We would like to examine if the economic and social status of the deceased's family has been taken advantage of by the state authorities to oppress and deprive them of their Constitutional rights,” the bench said.
The bench also expressed its intention to monitor the ongoing probe into the case by an SIT set up by the UP government and possibly transfer the case to some “independent” investigation agency, if the probe result does not inspire confidence.
“We have also pondered that an SIT has been constituted by the state government in the matter. We leave it open for our consideration on future dates, as to the necessity of monitoring the investigation or getting it conducted through an independent agency as per law,” the bench said.
The bench took cognisance of the case on the basis of news reports in various national dailies and TV news channels and also asked them to assist the court in the adjudication of the matter by submitting their news source material in a pen drive or a compact disc.
Besides putting the state government's officials on notice, the bench also asked its registry to communicate the order to the state advocate general and chief standing counsel to respond in the matter.
The bench also appointed senior advocate J N Mathur and Abhinav Bhattacharya as amicus curiae to assist the court in the matter.
The bench began its order with a couplet written by Mahatma Gandhi and also quoted Oscar Wilde, who said, "Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth with the grasses wearing above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace."
The court, however, lamented that the death of the Hathras teen had none of these poetic elements in it.