NEW DELHI, India: Protests continued in the Indian capital on Wednesday for the fourth day straight, as outrage continues to build over the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl from one of India’s most oppressed castes.
Protesters marched holding signs that demanded accountability for the girl’s death.
“We want justice,” they chanted, with placards that read: “Justice for India’s daughter.”
The parents of the 9-year-old girl attended the protests as well, sitting on a makeshift stage with supporters from their village.
Police confirmed that 200 security personnel had been deployed to the protest site.
The 9-year-old girl – a member of the Dalit community, the most oppressed group in India’s Hindu system of caste hierarchy – had gone to fetch water from a Delhi crematorium on Sunday, according to Ingit Pratap Singh, a senior Delhi police official.
The girl’s parents make a living by begging outside a Sufi Muslim shrine located just across from the cremation ground in Delhi’s Nangal area. The girl was their only child.
On Sunday evening, the mother sent her daughter to fetch water from the crematorium, just a few metres from their shanty.
“When she didn’t return for over an hour, I went searching for her. At the crematorium, I found her lying on the ground. Her lips were blue, there was blood under her nose, she had bruises on her hands and arms and her clothes were wet.”
She said the priest and the three men advised her not to call the police, saying “they would insist on an autopsy and steal her organs and sell them”.
After the girl did not return for half an hour, the crematorium’s priest, 55-year-old Radhey Shyam, called the mother and showed her the body of her deceased daughter, said Singh.
“The girl was lying on a bench there, they told her mother that look, her lips are blue and her body is burnt from the lips down to the wrist,” Singh said. The mother was told that her daughter had been electrocuted while trying to fetch water.
Shyam and three other crematorium employees convinced the mother to cremate the body, claiming it would be a hassle to involve the police, said Singh. The girl’s body was cremated, with her parents present.
But the incident sparked outcry in their village, and after the parents returned home, about 200 villagers gathered demanding justice.
That same night, police arrested four men alleged to be involved in the girl’s death.
They have yet to be charged, but have been remanded to judicial custody for two weeks, Singh said. Police are investigating the crime as an incident of caste violence and are also investigating allegations of rape made by the victims’ families and other villagers.
Since the girl’s body has already largely been cremated, medical examiners “could not ascertain anything based on the remaining parts of the body” during the post-mortem exam, said Singh on Wednesday.
Forensic units are now testing other pieces of evidence like bodily fluids on her clothing to “ascertain if there was any discharge that is used in the sexual assault,” he said.
In India’s caste-based social hierarchy, Dalits refer to those belonging to oppressed castes and have been referred to as “untouchables” in the past.
They experience severe discrimination and are often victims of sexual violence and assault.
India’s caste system was officially abolished in 1950, but the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, what jobs they can do and who they can marry.
Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister, tweeted a statement on Tuesday night after facing accusations of silence.
“The murder of the 9-year-old in Delhi after being ravaged is extremely shameful,” he wrote, calling for the death sentence for the perpetrators. “I will meet the victim’s family tomorrow and do everything possible to help them in this fight for justice.”
Shaktisinh Gohil, a member of parliament from India’s main Congress Party, has asked for the incident to be discussed during the ongoing parliamentary session.
According to official data released by the Indian government, 88 rapes take place in the country every day.