When Rahul Gandhi decided to go to Hathras on the night of September 30, the girl’s body was still not completely burned to ashes in a field in Boolgarhi, a village 200 km from Delhi. Rahul Gandhi announced his decision late night to visit the family of the unfortunate girl who had been denied justice, in life and death.
The next morning, our group set off without informing anyone, and was stopped by police barricades at the Delhi-UP border. By then, hundreds of party members had reached the border after hearing of Rahul Gandhi's journey. Rahul Gandhi was firm that he had to visit the family, after the police stopped him and refused to allow anyone to leave saying that there was a restraining order. With this, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi got out of their car and started walking, announcing that they would go to Hathras on foot.
Neither the burning heat on the Yamuna expressway nor the distance was an obstacle to their determination to reach the Dalit family. Rahul Gandhi continued his walk by jumping into the opposite road as the police lined up to block the expressway with a total barricade. There too, a large group of police arrived and stopped him, despite the fact that he had made it clear that he should go to Hathras.
Rahul Gandhi was severely assaulted and pushed down. In the meantime, the party members who accompanied him were brutally lathicharged several times by the police. Even after the lathicharge none of them backed off and stood firmly behind Rahul Gandhi.
Despite such harsh treatment, there was not a single provocation from the Congress workers. The situation became more complicated when Rahul Gandhi stated that he was not ready to turn back from there and then the police arrested him and Priyanka Gandhi by force. Rahul Gandhi returned with a vow that he would not kneel before the police force and would come back by any means.
Punjab rally postponed
Rahul Gandhi decided to postpone the farmers' rally scheduled to start in Punjab to the very next day and went to Hathras again on October 3. He called Priyaka Gandhi and me and informed us to make all the preparations and leave the next morning. "No power in the world can stop me from seeing the grieving family members and sharing their pain," he said.
As soon as Rahul Gandhi announced the decision, about 30 MPs and leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Randeep Surjewala and Mukul Wasnik, who were in Delhi, left to Hathras with him from the Congress headquarters. Thousands of Congress workers joined the march, which was followed by a mass rally for justice.
The Yogi government made it clear that it would go to any extent to conceal the truth and once again set up a large police force at the border.
It was seen as the most horrific atrocity of the police force. Police brutally beat Congress leaders and members without provocation.
Seeing the Congress members being beaten, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi bravely stepped in front of the lathi, giving the Congress workers more courage.
When Rahul Gandhi decided not to return without seeing the victim's family, the police finally had to agree that only five people could be allowed.
Then Rahul Gandhi discussed the police's suggestion with us and agreed that five people including Priyanka Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and himself will visit Hathras.
As Azad was far behind in the traffic jam and was unable to reach us, we included Mukul Wasnik and continued the journey.
As soon as our vehicle was ready to pass, the police again got out of the vehicle to beat the members and then Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi jumped out of the vehicle to provide protection to the party members.
At Hathras, finally
It took us about three hours to cross the UP border and finally we reached Hathras around 7 pm.
There was a large group of media around. The girl's family lives in a hamlet about 20 km from Hathras town.
We arrived at that small house after a long journey through the narrow countryside. The condition of the family, who had been imprisoned and threatened by the police, was unfathomable. We saw even Rahul Gandhi, who faces any crisis with complete determination, fall apart.
Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi spent about an hour in the house consoling the parents and siblings of the deceased girl. The girl's mother who was helplessly exhausted by the denial of justice, put her head on Priyanka Gandhi's chest and began to cry.
We were left speechless with no words of consolation when the family told us in tears that the utterly reprehensible denial of justice by the Yogi government had made them even more humiliated and helpless.
Police did not even tell the family where the girl's body was being taken to after she succumbed to her injuries at the hospital. Without even giving the family a chance to see her one last time, the police themselves burnt the body on the same night. We had no answer when the mother asked in tears why her daughter's body was burnt in the dark denying the family a chance to conduct her last rites.
The district collector threatened to change the statement of the family in grief over the loss of their daughter. The post-mortem report, published days after the incident, claimed that the girl, who was on her death bed, was not tortured despite the fact that she had been raped.
It is indeed shocking that the Yogi government has even taken the bizarre decision to subject the family to a lie-detector in the face of the brutal denial of justice.
The national media could tell the world about the helplessness of the family due to the determination of Rahul Gandhi and his relentless fight.
Moreover, the family is living in fear in the land where their daughter was born after their house was razed to the ground. The family is still being threatened. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi returned with the assurance that the family should live on the same land and that the Congress would take responsibility for their safety and the case.
Hathras and Nirbhaya
The Hathras incident is a sign of the severe injustices and oppression in our country.
The Nirbhaya incident in Delhi, which shocked the country, can be read in conjunction with the depth of the humiliation and denial of justice faced by the girl and her family in Hathras.
In the days leading up to the protests in the national capital and across the country, the Delhi Police had meticulously investigated the case and nabbed the culprits within days.
Despite protests against the government, Sonia Gandhi visited the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi and met the family in person.
Nirbhaya was taken to Singapore to ensure the best possible treatment. When Nirbhaya's body was finally brought to Delhi, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were waiting to take over the body at 8 am.
As protests intensified, the government introduced a new law to prevent torture. Despite so much criticism and protests, no one came forward to threaten Nirbhaya's family, not even the government.
Nirbhaya's body was handed over to the family with all due respect. Even after that, Rahul Gandhi himself came forward to give all support to Nirbhaya's family, which was later revealed by the girl's mother.
Despite the outcry across the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not ready to say a word about the girl in Hathras.
UP Chief Minister Aditya Nath is not ready to visit the family. Equality and justice guaranteed by our constitution were perished in to ashes along with the body of the girl who was denied justice even in death.
The government headed by Yogi, who is hunting down the victim's family, is challenging the rights of every citizen of this country.
The Congress party is not ready to remain silent on the issue. The Indian National Congress will continue its struggle until the girl gets justice.
(The writer is the general secretary of All India Congress Committee who had accompanied Rahul Gandhi to Hathras. Views are personal.)