Police have been criticized for cremating a teenager’s body against the will of her family and against religious customs.
Five senior police officers have been suspended on an investigation into the alleged rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman, which sparked outrage and days of protests across India.
The seriously injured Dalit teenage girl, formerly the “Untouchables”, was found outside her village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in mid-September and died this week in a hospital in New Delhi.
The police have arrested four men of higher caste for rape and murder.
However, police have been criticized for attempting to destroy evidence by cremating the woman’s body in the middle of the night – allegedly with gasoline – against the will of her family and against religious mores.
The teenager’s body was cremated in the open field on Wednesday (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. GMT) in Hathras, some 200 km from the Indian capital, in the presence of police and other officers.
“We told the administration that we wanted to cremate them in the morning according to Hindu rituals, but they didn’t listen to us. They locked us in our house and burned her body, ”the girl’s brother said to Al Jazeera.
“We kept screaming from the house, but they didn’t listen to us and cremated them with gasoline. Gasoline is never used in the final rites, but why should they care? “
The family said they wanted to see the girl’s face again before she was cremated, but the authorities refused.
“The last time we saw her face was shortly after the autopsy [autopsy] happened. They haven’t even given us the basic dignity to allow us to watch their faces one last time, ”her brother said.
A senior police officer sparked outrage Thursday after alleging a forensic report and autopsy showed the woman had not been raped.
This contradicts the statements made by the victim and her mother and reported hospital results, while experts said the forensic test was done too long after the attack.
Hundreds of police have also barricaded the village to prevent the woman’s family from leaving the village and speaking to journalists and opposition politicians.
The family’s cell phones were also reportedly confiscated.
Uttar Pradesh Prime Minister Yogi Adityanath announced late Friday the suspension of the Hathras district police chief and four others.
The Hindu monk and close ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced that the victim’s family, the accused and the suspended police officers would undergo polygraphs and drug tests.
In the latest protest on Friday evening, around 500 people, including the capital’s prime minister and a prominent Dalit politician, gathered in the center of New Delhi to demand justice.
“We (women) are not really free, even though India is independent,” Sanskriti, one of the women at the protest location in Delhi, told the AFP news agency.
“This is something I want to speak out against. And I just wish that all people would agree and understand that it is high time to do something about it, ”she added.
The young woman’s death comes months after four men were hanged for the rape and murder of a student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. This was a symbol of India’s epidemic of sexual violence.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 87 rapes have been reported every day in India over the past year, but large numbers are believed to go unreported.