image source, Abhishek Mathurimage caption, The victim's family are living isolated in the village
Exactly a year ago, a 19-year-old woman died in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after reporting she'd been gang raped and brutally assaulted by upper-caste neighbours. Her story evoked global condemnation after the authorities forcibly cremated her body in the darkness of the night without her family's consent.
A cornered government promised a proper investigation and a fast track court to ensure early justice. But a year later, despite four men being put on trial charged with rape and murder, the case is still making its way through India's sluggish justice system, and the teenager's family have told the BBC they live like prisoners in their own home, their lives on hold.
I first visited Bhulgarhi village in Hathras district just days after the young woman's death. The news had made global headlines, and reporters and camera crews crowded her home. Opposition politicians of all hues visited, pledging their support to the family in their fight for justice.
Her mother told me she had found her on 14 September in a field of tall millet crops, battered and bruised, barely conscious and naked from the waist downwards. Her spine was broken, she was bleeding and vomiting blood. After fighting for her life for a fortnight, she died in a hospital on 29 September.
When I visited her home recently, I found the family isolated in the village, locked up in their home, guarded by machine gun-wielding paramilitary security force members, and under the intrusive gaze of CCTV cameras, mounted at key points to record all comings and goings. (They were provided protection on orders from the Supreme Court amid concerns that they could be targeted by the upper castes.)
"It's been a wasted year," says her eldest brother. "We are safe at home because of the paramilitaries. But we can't go out to work. We are surviving on the compensation money and government rations."
The family received 2.5m rupees ($33,678; £24,865) from the state government, under laws which allow for financial compensation to be given families of victims of crimes including murder and rape.
Her younger brother added: "We also feel under arrest. Even to buy groceries or visit a doctor, we have to go with the paramilitaries."
image source, Abhishek Mathurimage caption, The victim's sister-in-law says "there are too many memories peeking out of every corner"
Before tragedy struck, the family tended to their small farm plot and supplemented their income by picking up other daily jobs. But that's no longer possible. Six of the seven buffaloes they owned have been sold since they can no longer go out to collect fodder. And the authorities are yet to deliver on their promises of a new home and a government job for a family member.
The young woman and her family are Dalits – men and women formerly known as "untouchables" who languish at the bottom of India's harsh caste hierarchy. She had named four men from the upper-caste Thakur community as her attackers. Investigators have charged them with murder, gang rape and committing atrocities against a Dalit, and a trial has begun.
Read more of our coverage on the Hathras gang rape:
- A woman reported rape. Why are police denying it?
- A fatal assault, a cremation and no goodbye
- Jailed and 'tortured' for trying to report a rape
But relatives of the accused alleged that she was in a consensual relationship with one of the Thakurs and accused her family of "honour killing" since they didn't approve of her relationship. Influential Thakur politicians also held large rallies in support of the accused.
A narrow lane separates the homes of the victim and the accused, but the gap has been unbridgeable for centuries. And the chasm has grown deeper and wider since the crime.
"Our ancestors were ill-treated by their ancestors and we are still discriminated against," says the victim's elder brother. "No-one from the village came to ask us about our sister after she was attacked, or while she fought for her life in hospital or even after she died. But the entire village turns up in court to support the accused."
image source, Abhishek Mathurimage caption, The family says the only thing thriving in their home is the holy basil the victim planted
He has made several trips to the Hathras district court recently to record his statement and for cross-examination. On Thursday, it's their mother's turn to take the witness stand.
Trips to court, the family says, are fraught with tension. Their lawyer, Seema Kushwaha, complains of threats and intimidation – claims rejected by defence lawyer Munna Singh Pundhir.
Ms Kushwaha says her car has been chased by men in a vehicle as she's travelled to court. And in court, male lawyers have told her that "a Delhi lawyer can't argue a case in Hathras. They've tried to stare me down and told me to stay within my seema [limits]".
One day in March, she said, the court had to be adjourned twice when things got out of control. On most days, her car has to be escorted to the district border by the police. But the high court recently rejected her request to transfer the case out of the district.
Ms Kushwaha says that 16 of the 104 witnesses – including doctors, police officials, family members and local journalists – have been heard so far and the hearings are expected to conclude in the next two to three months. "We have asked for the maximum punishment of the death penalty," she told the BBC.
She's also representing the family in a second case being heard in the state capital, Lucknow, where the high court is considering whether the authorities had the family's consent for the cremation and, if not, what penalties to impose on the officials involved.
It's also looking into compensation for the family. "The family wants to be relocated and I think they should be," Ms Kushwaha said. "The paramilitaries can provide them physical security. But what about mental and emotional security? The government must provide them accommodation far away from Hathras so they can start life afresh."
image source, Abhishek Mathurimage caption, Balbir Singh, a member of the upper-caste Thakur community, says "whatever happened has happened"
In the village, there is fear and resentment on both sides of the caste divide and the atmosphere is tense and hostile. The families of the accused are angry and accuse reporters of a witch hunt.
"Why have you come here?" an elderly female relative of one of the accused shouted at me. "Our sons are innocent. They are in jail because the media painted us like villains."
Most Thakur families in the village were unwilling to speak, saying the matter is in court and that they don't know anything. "We are fighting poverty and inflation, trying to make ends meet," one man said.
"People say all sorts of things, but who can tell what happened? Only she [the victim] knew and god knew," said Balbir Singh, 76.
He agrees that there is still some tension in the village, but says "whatever happened has happened. They have to live here, and so do we".
The victim's family, however, says they are no longer living, that their lives are in limbo.
Her mother dissolves into tears every time she remembers her "beautiful daughter with long black hair".
"We still can't believe how it happened," she says, wiping her tears with her sari. "Can a mother ever forget her child? I miss her when I eat, I miss her when I go to bed. I couldn't even imagine in my worst nightmare that I'd lose my daughter and in such a brutal manner," she says.
"But my daughter was very brave. She kept saying she was raped. The villagers don't like it, they say it brings our village a bad name and we should have suppressed it."
image source, Abhishek Mathurimage caption, The place where the victim was cremated is now covered in grass
The victim's sister-in-law says it's not possible to go on living in the house because "there are too many memories peeking out of every corner".
"We were always together. When I was pregnant, she wouldn't let me cook or do chores. On the day of her death too, she'd cooked vegetables and prepared dough and said she'll come back after collecting fodder and make roti [bread].
"But she never returned," she says, breaking down.
The 19-year-old's younger brother says "the only thing that's flourished in the past year is a plant of holy basil. When my sister planted it, it was just a sapling. Look how big it's grown now."
We walk to the patch of farmland about 1km from her home where her body was cremated.
Last year, when I visited, it was a pile of ash. Now the area is covered in grass; a heap of twigs is piled nearby. All traces of what happened on the night of 29 September have been erased.
I ask the family about her ashes. "We won't scatter them until we get justice," says her brother.
Her sister-in-law says: "And that will happen only when the four men are hanged so their families can also experience the same pain we've been living for the past year."
media caption, Delhi Nirbhaya rape death penalty: How the case galvanised India