“Your daughter will be cremated. What had to happen has happened. No need to scream now. We’ll settle this here,” Tara’s mother recalled Radhey Shyam telling her.
Tara, a nine-year-old Dalit girl, was allegedly gangraped, murdered and forcibly cremated at the Delhi Cantt crematorium on August 1. The police have arrested four men – Radhey Shyam, 55, Lakshmi Narayan, 43, Kuldeep, 63 and Salim, 49 – and booked them for gangrape, murder and under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
Radhey Shyam is a priest at the crematorium.
Tara lived with her parents, who work as ragpickers, in the Old Nangli area. And she would often accompany them to a nearby shrine, Peer Baba Dargah, where they often begged for money.
On August 1, Tara’s father said, the family returned home from the dargah at around 5.30 pm. “I had to go buy vegetables, and before leaving I told my child to get some water for her mother,” he recalled, adding that they usually fetched water from a water cooler installed at the crematorium. “She said, ‘Okay papa, I will get it after playing.’”
An hour later, when Tara didn’t return, her mother stepped out to see why the girl was taking unusually long to fill water. After going around the neighbourhood to see if Tara was playing, she went to the crematorium.
“I went in and found my baby lying there, dead,” she recalled. “Her lips were torn, her tongue was blue, her eyes would not close, and she had bruises on left arm. Her shirt and undies were wet. I couldn’t bear to look at her.”
In a moment, Radhey Shyam walked over and told her that Tara had been electrocuted while she was filling water.
“I didn’t believe him,” she said. “Why were there so many bruises on her then?”
The entrance to the Delhi Cantt crematorium.
She was still trying to make sense of what had happened, Tara’s mother alleged, when Radhey Shyam told her the child’s corpse would have to be cremated immediately.
“I wanted to call the police but he wouldn’t listen. He told me, ‘You will be ruined. You are so poor, how will you fight a case? Your child will be cremated. There’s no need to call anyone. Just sit here. Are you hungry? Shall I get you some roti?” she alleged the priest told her.
She was infuriated that he was offering her food when her only child lay dead in front of her.
Then, she claimed, Radhey Shyam locked the crematorium gate from the inside. “He told me, “Don’t shout. Don’t scream. What had to happen has happened. Now why are you screaming? Let’s finish this. And then he set my child on fire.”
Once the pyre was fully lit, Radhey Shyam allegedly told Tara’s mother to go home and “sleep quietly”. “Don’t go back crying and screaming. Come back tomorrow at 8 am, take the ashes, and put them in the Yamuna river,” she alleged the priest told her.
By now, around 7.30 pm, Tara’s father and his neighbours had heard about “an issue” at the crematorium, and they reached there.
“The pyre was burning and my wife looked like she was going to faint,” Tara’s father recalled. “I kept asking the pandit what had happened and he kept telling me not to make a big deal of it.”
Soon, more people from Nangli reached the crematorium, Nitin Baghna and Ajeet Kumar among them. Nitin reached at around 8:30 and Ajeet at 9:10 pm.
“The gate was locked, there were a few people inside, a pyre was burning, and our people had gathered outside. We broke open the gate and went in,” said Ajeet.
Among the people inside were the four accused men, standing next to the pyre, Ajeet and Nitin both said. The villagers began suspecting them and demanded answers. The men tried to run but when they realised they couldn’t, Radhey Shyam reportedly confessed to raping Tara.
“First he said electrocution had killed her,” Nitin claimed. “But when we slapped him around a bit, he begged for forgiveness and said, ‘Yes, I made a mistake, please forgive me.’”
The police arrived sometime after 10.45 pm, Nitin said, and took away the four accused men.
Tara’s parents don’t know who called the police, but Nitin said “quite a few people had dialled 100 by then”.
The police, however, made no attempt to douse the pyre, both Nitin and Ajeet alleged. “I asked them, ‘Why are you not trying to stop the fire? How will you collect evidence?’. They didnt do anything. When I tried to pour a bucket of water to prevent the body from burning, one policeman caught my hand and told me not to do that.”
So the villagers took matters into their own hands and put out the raging fire. By then, all that remained of Tara were her feet, some of her scalp and a portion of her hip.
At around 11.30 pm, the police took Tara’s parents to the Delhi Cantt police station. Here, they claimed, they were kept for the next 15 hours.
“My husband and I were kept in separate rooms. They took our statement and then just made us sit inside. We were given food only the next day,” Tara’s mother claimed. She also alleged that a man in civilian clothes beat up her husband inside the station and threatened to do the same to her. “He kept saying we were lying and that we should keep quiet,” she claimed.
Ingit Pratap Singh, deputy commissioner of police, southwest Delhi, told Newslaundry they have filed an FIR on the basis of Tara’s mother’s statement. They had collected samples of the victim, including what remained of her feet, and sent them for forensic analysis.
“All legal formalities are being followed. The men have been sent in judicial custody for 14 days,” the DCP said.
Asked why Tara’s parents had been lodged in the police station for 15 hours, he said, “They were not detained or arrested. This is being done as per procedure. We needed to make sure that we recorded their statement correctly.”
The DCP denied that Tara’s father had been beaten up in the police station. “There are a lot of rumours going around now,” he said. “This is not true.”
Tara’s parents are now holding a sit-in protest. “I want justice,” said the mother. “I’d heard about Hathras but I never thought that it would happen to us.”
Tara was killed inside the same where, according to a Navbharat Times report, two women were raped in June. In that case, DCP Ingit told Newslaundry, the police have arrested two Indian Army men and the investigation is still going on.
Had a CCTV camera been installed at the crematorium before or after the incident in June? “No,” the DCP said, “the crematorium does not have any CCTV cameras”.
Tara is an assumed name used to protect her identity and her family’s.
Pictures by Aditya Varier.