A 19 year old Dalit girl, who was found naked and bleeding in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district, died in hospital on Tuesday, weeks after authorities said she was raped by four Thakur neighbours. The assault and death sparked a wave of criticism and protests, highlighting yet again the prevalence of gender and caste violence in India.

The latest in a long string of gruesome attacks on women in India, the caste dynamics of the assault cannot be ignored as the girl’s family alleges that the perpetrators -- all belonging to the higher Thakur caste -- were known to harass and intimidate Dalits in the area.

The girl was attacked and raped on September 14, her body found in a field near her home in Hathras - about a 100km from New Delhi.

There was nothing unusual about that morning, the girl’s mother told reporters. They were working in the field close to the house, and when the mother -- who cannot hear very well -- looked up a while later, she couldn’t spot her daughter.

They were barely 200 meters from the family house. Walking back to the house, the mother spotted the daughter’s blue slippers along with footprints and signs of dragging on the wet mud. She followed the footprints and discovered her daughter’s body, naked, injured and barely alive. These parts of the fields are owned by the Thakurs, but Dalits have been cutting and gathering grass here for years.

The family say that the police were initially uncooperative, but finally registered an FIR. Over the span of the next two weeks, while in hospital, the girl named all four of the attackers.

On Tuesday, a day after she was shifted from the hospital in UP to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, she succumbed to her injuries. Immediately, #Hathras was trending on Twitter, with social media users expressing outrage.

The girl’s family have spoken openly of the discrimination they have suffered at the hands of the upper castes in the village. Of the 600 families in Hathras, there are only 15 Dalit families.

On Monday, when she was shifted from a hospital in Uttar Pradesh to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, about 300 Bhim Army protesters stormed the hospital demanding justice.

Many on social media have demanded that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath take action. UP ranks as the most unsafe state for women in the country. Last December, a 23 year old Dalit woman was set ablaze by a gang of men as she made her way to a UP court to press rape charges.

A statement by the All India Democratic Women’s Association condemning the attack reads:

“The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) strongly condemns the brutal gang rape of the 19 year old Dalit girl in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh leading to her death. The victim was gang raped and strangulated on September 14 when she went to collect fodder from the field. She succumbed to the horrifying injuries inflicted on her by the rapists at the Safdarjung Hospital where she was admitted in a very critical condition.

Seeing her critical condition, the administration should have shifted her immediately to Delhi for treatment. She was shifted from Aligarh to Delhi only after her father’s request.

The barbaric torture by the rapists led to the victim suffering multiple fractures and permanent damage to her spinal cord. Injuries to her neck left her in a totally paralysed condition and she struggled to breathe. Her tongue was also slashed.

The family has also alleged that the police did not register the complaint for 4-5 days.

Uttar Pradesh has become a hotbed of crimes against women with daily incidents of kidnapping, rape and murder. The political patronage given to criminals in UP has led to a jungle raj with goons moving around with impunity.

During the Unnao case, the CBI had explicitly stated that two IPS and one IAS officers were found guilty of dereliction of duty and action should be taken against them. But the UP state government has not taken any action against the erring officers so far sending a message that crimes against women need not be taken seriously.

AIDWA demands that immediate protection be given to the family of the victim.

AIDWA and various women’s organisations have jointly called for protests to be held all over the country tomorrow.”

On Tuesday night, the girl’s body was cremated - with the family objecting to the hurried cremation. The family say they were not allowed at the cremation, and were barricaded in the house while the girl’s body was cremated by the police. Harrowing visuals of family members arguing with cops and throwing themselves on the ambulance as the girl’s body was being taken away corroborate these statements.

(Photos: NDTV)

(Cover Photo: A photo of the cremation on Tuesday night. The family has objected to the hurried cremation in the middle of the night)