Bowing to relentless criticism, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati Wednesday assured justice in the killing of a young girl, found hanging in a police compound, but declined to ask the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the case.
The anguished mother of the murdered 14-year-old, however, insisted that only a CBI probe would help resolve the case and alleged her daughter was gang-raped by policemen in the eastern district of Lakhimpur Kheri.
The Congress backed her demand, saying the state police could not be expected to deliver justice as they themselves were involved in the crime that has generated widespread shock. The Allahabad High Court has meanwhile sought a report, with the next hearing scheduled for Friday.
"We have arrested the key accused while efforts are on to track his two accomplices," Mayawati said. But the chief minister made no mention about the allegation of rape.
The girl was found hanging from a tree June 10 night in the Nighasan police station premises. The death was initially dismissed as suicide, but a second autopsy confirmed the girl was strangled. Lakhimpur Kheri is about 200 km from here.
"If the victim's family wants the case to be handed over to CBI, I am not against the idea," Mayawati said.
"But going by past experience and botch-ups by the country's premier investigation agency in the Arushi Talwar case, I would not want this case also meets the same end as the Arushi case."
She promised that "the guilty will be brought to book and none would be spared under any circumstances".
Mayawati said the Lakhimpur Kheri Superintendent of Police D.K. Rai had been suspended for serious lapses in handling the girl's death in a police compound. She said action had been taken against 11 other policemen as well.
Three doctors who conducted the first autopsy too have been suspended.
Ramchandra, an employee at the Nighasan police station, has been arrested. Sub-inspector B.K. Singh and constables Uma Shankar and Shiv Shankar have been booked for tampering with evidence.
The dead girl's mother, however, said police were trying to suppress the truth.
"There are attempts to conceal the facts… What is being shown is not true. I have seen my daughter's body… She was raped.
"I am not satisfied by the police investigation," she said, insisting that policemen raped her daughter and killed her.
The girl's death has sparked vehement criticism of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) administration, which critics say has failed to curb growing crime in the state, particularly against women.
But claiming that the Crime Branch was doing an efficient job of probing how the girl died, Mayawati accused the opposition of trying to gain political mileage from the case.
Meanwhile, a doctor who conducted the first autopsy Wednesday blamed police for "misinterpreting" the report.
"We are not at fault. It was a mistake on the part of police as they failed to comprehend our post-mortem report," A.K. Agarwal, one of three doctors who conducted the first autopsy, said in Lakhimpur Kheri.
"We were not told to probe the case with a suicide or murder angle. Our post-mortem mentioned the injuries on the victim's neck and leg," he said.
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, the party in-charge in Uttar Pradesh, lashed out at Mayawati.
"There is no rule of law (in Uttar Pradesh)," he said. "There is jungle raj."
He said Mayawati wanted to win the coming assembly elections with police help. "There should be a CBI inquiry."