AGENCIES, Lucknow/New Delhi: On a day Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath handed over the Hathras rape and murder case to the CBI, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met the family of the 20-year-old Dalit woman who was allegedly gang raped and murdered last month and whose body was cremated in a secretive ceremony at 2.30 am.
“No force can silence us,” Rahul Gandhi told the media after the meeting. “Wherever something wrong happens, we will be there to ensure justice is served. No one can stop us,” Priyanka Gandhi said.
— Congress (@INCIndia) October 3, 2020
The visit, involving a dramatic standoff with cops at the Delhi-UP border, was the Congress leaders’ second attempt — the first, on Thursday, ended in a tussle with cops who refused to let Rahul Gandhi pass citing orders banning large gatherings amid coronavirus concerns, and shoved him to the ground in the chaos that followed — to reach the village of the girl. Another opposition leader, the Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien, was also manhandled as he too tried to speak to the family.
A similarly dramatic face-off seemed in store on Saturday as Rahul Gandhi set off from Delhi at around 2.30 pm in a silver Toyota Innova that Priyanka was driving. Their convoy consisted of around 30 Congress MPs, including Shashi Tharoor. Hathras is around 200 km from Delhi.
“Nothing in the world can stop me from going to Hathras to meet this unhappy family to share their pain,” Rahul Gandhi said before leaving, while Priyanka told news agency ANI: “If not this time, then we will try again.”
A massive force of around 200 cops, some in riot gear and wielding lathis, was deployed at the toll plaza along the Delhi-Noida Direct (DND) Flyover with definite instructions not to allow the Congress leaders to cross the border.
Visuals shared online by ANI showed huge numbers of cops and metal barricades, leading many to question where the cops were when needed to deal with crimes against women in the state.
In a slightly anti-climactic moment, however, a UP government that has been severely criticised for its handling of this tragic case including its treatment of the young woman’s traumatised family, whom they allegedly locked up in their homes, seemed to give in to the pressure and allowed Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and two others — KC Venugopal and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury — to cross the border.
Meanwhile, top officials from the UP government and police — DGP H.C. Awasthy and Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Awasthi — went to Hathras on Saturday to speak to the family. Visuals showed the officials sitting cross-legged on the ground talking to the grieving family members. This was the first visit by high-ranking officials of the government and police since the alleged gang rape that took place on September 14.
The ruling BJP, which is under pressure over its apparent inability to prevent horrific crimes against women — at least two more assaults and rapes have been reported from the state since then — had earlier dismissed the Congress’s protests as a “political stunt”. On Saturday, Union minister Smriti Irani hit out at Rahul Gandhi, accusing him of staging a visit to Hathras for political gain.
Furious protests against the police and the UP government have been staged across the country, including one in national capital Delhi on Friday, where Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made an appearance and demanded that the four accused be hanged.
The Allahabad High Court has taken notice of the case and has summoned top officials of the government and police to appear before it on October 12.