New Delhi, October 01:

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged today that he was pushed to the ground and lathi-charged when he and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were marching on the highway between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh after their convoy was stopped on its way to Hathras, where they intended to meet the family of the gang rape victim who died on Tuesday and whose dead-of-night cremation by the UP police has provoked nationwide outrage. The Gandhis sat on the road with hundreds of supporters after the Uttar Pradesh police refused to let them continue.

“Just now police pushed me, lathicharged me and threw me to the ground. I want to ask, can only Modi Ji walk in this country? Can’t a normal person walk? Our vehicle was stopped, so we started walking,” Rahul Gandhi said, targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ahead of the Congress leaders’ visit, the UP administration enforced a ban on large gatherings and put up barricades at the borders citing the coronavirus.

Priyanka Gandhi started a foot-march as her convoy was stopped.

Even as Congress workers blocked roads and chanted slogans, the Gandhis’ SUV crossed the border, but their convoy was stopped at Greater Noida, at a point that is about 142 km to Hathras. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi then climbed out of their vehicle and started walking along with scores of Congress workers, shouting slogans against UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. After a point, a large number of UP cops tried to push them back.

The Samajwadi Party also protested at the Hathras border, where they were stopped from proceeding to the woman’s village. Since morning, the media has been barred from the village.

UP officers claimed the restrictions had been in place since September 1 and has been extended to October 31. A senior official claimed several policemen had shown Covid symptoms. However, the Congress alleged these were tactics to prevent the Gandhis from entering the village.

The woman, 20, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Delhi. She had suffered multiple fractures, paralysis and severe spinal injury when she was assaulted by four upper caste men from her village on September 14. The police said there was a gash in her tongue because she had bitten it when the men were trying to strangle her.

To add to the family’s pain, the UP police took away her body, drove to her village and cremated the body forcibly, with the family locked in their home. The woman’s parents had begged to be allowed to take her body back home and perform the last rite the following morning. The woman was cremated at 2.30 am with only a few policemen around and no family member. The UP police’s rush to cremate the body was seen to be a desperate attempt to cover-up what has been a string of lapses in the case.

The woman’s family alleged that the police had been slow to respond to their complaint and the administration had been negligent because they belong to the Dalit or underprivileged castes.

The incident has drawn public anger and the UP government of Yogi Adityanath has come under attack from several opposition parties over recent crimes against women.

Rahul Gandhi had said yesterday: “All this is a shameful move of the UP government to suppress the Dalits and show them their ”place” in the society. Our fight is against this hateful thinking.” Rahul Gandhi was an MP from Uttar Pradesh for three terms until he lost in his family stronghold Amethi last year.

His sister Priyanka Gandhi, who has the task of rebuilding the Congress in UP, said Yogi Adityanath had “no moral right” to continue in office.

In a series of tweets, Priyanka Gandhi said she had been on the phone with the woman’s father when he learnt of her death. “I was on the phone with the Hathras victim’s father when he was informed that his daughter had passed away. I heard him cry out in despair,” tweeted the Congress general secretary on Wednesday.

This is not the first time the Gandhis are facing roadblocks in Uttar Pradesh.

Last year, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi were stopped from entering Meerut in UP to meet the families of people killed in violent protests against the amended citizenship law. The police had cited Section 144, or a ban on gatherings, which is now in place in Hathras.

In December, Priyanka Gandhi accused the UP police of manhandling her in Lucknow to stop her from going to the house of a retired police officer arrested over the citizenship protests. When her car was stopped, she even rode pillion with a Congress worker to try and reach the house. Before that, in July, the Congress leader was stopped from visiting Sonbhadra where 10 people were shot dead in a village. Priyanka Gandhi then sat on a protest for hours.