NEW DELHI – The gang rape and death of a woman from the lowest rung of India’s caste system sparked outrage across the country on Wednesday, with several politicians and activists demanding justice and protesters rallying in the streets .
The attack on the 19-year-old is the latest horrific case of sexual violence against women to ravage India, where reports of rape are eerily familiar.
The victim, who was from the Dalit community, was raped by four men on September 14 in central state of Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh. The woman’s family told local media they found her naked, bleeding and paralyzed with a split tongue and a broken spine in a field outside their home. She died two weeks later on Tuesday after being seriously injured in a New Delhi hospital.
Police said the four men, all from an upper caste, had been arrested.
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Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Wednesday ordered a special investigative team to deal with the case and said it would be tried by a fast-track court.
In New Delhi, police arrested several activists after they attempted to walk the streets shouting slogans against Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The demonstrators carried placards which read: “Stop the culture of rape”.
Maimoona Mullah, Democratic Women’s Association of India, said Uttar Pradesh, which is led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party and ranked as the most dangerous state for women in the country, has become “State of Rape in India”.
“We don’t accept the rape culture in the name of the new India,” the mullah said.
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Earlier on Tuesday, hundreds of demonstrators from the Bhim Army, a Dalit rights party, stormed the premises of the New Delhi hospital and clashed with police. Party leader Chandra Shekhar Aazad urged Dalits across the country to flood the streets to demand that the perpetrators be hanged.
Dalits – formerly known as “untouchables” and at the bottom of the ruthless Hindu caste hierarchy in India – fall victim to thousands of attacks every year. According to human rights organizations, Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to caste discrimination and sexual violence.
Last month, a 13-year-old Dalit girl was raped and killed in Uttar Pradesh. In December last year, a 23-year-old Dalit woman in the same state died after being set on fire by a gang of men on her way to court to file a rape complaint. Both cases are pending in court.
In the latter case, questions have been raised about a hasty cremation, with several politicians calling it a human rights abuse.
The woman was cremated early Wednesday, with the family alleging that the police did not allow them to perform their final rites. Videos on social media show the family in tears as police insisted on cremating the body without allowing them to take it home.
Police officer Vikrant Veer denied the allegations, while opposition congress leader Rahul Gandhi called the cremation incident “violent and unjust.”
In India, rape and sexual violence have been in the spotlight since the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus in 2012. The attack galvanized massive protests and prompted lawmakers to order the creation of accelerated courts dedicated to rape cases and to toughen the sentences for those convicted of the crime.
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In March, four men sentenced to death in the 2012 attack were hanged.
Indians often rally for swift justice in a country where a woman is raped every 15 minutes, government data shows, and sentencing is notoriously delayed by late courts.
According to the government, police recorded 33,658 rape cases in 2017 – an average of 92 per day and a 35% jump from 2012. About 10,000 of the reported victims were children. The actual figure is believed to be much higher due to the stigma surrounding sexual violence.