NEW DELHI – A teenager from a North Indian village who was pulled from a field and raped by a group of men died of his wounds at a hospital in New Delhi on Tuesday, sparking outrage across the country after years of what experts describe as a gang rape epidemic in India.
The 19-year-old woman, who is banned from naming under Indian law, had been taken to hospital just a day earlier, two weeks after being raped and disfigured by high-ranking men near their village in Hatras district in Uttar Pradesh. said her family.
Hatras police chief Vikrant Vir said four men had been arrested on charges of gang rape and murder. Prime Minister Narendra Modi says “toughest action”
But justice is unlikely: Of the tens of thousands of rapes reported annually in India, only a handful lead to prosecution, according to the National Crime Bureau. Activists say the true scope of the problem is far worse, as many cases are never reported due to the stigma of sexual violence in India.
When action is taken against suspects, this is often done by vigilantes or out-of-court police officers in homicides, which are usually widely praised, but also point to the inability of the justice system to deal with widespread sexual violence.
The woman was Dalit, at the lowest rung in the Hindu hierarchy of India. Hundreds of protesters from the Bhim Army, a party advocating for Dalits’ rights, stormed a hospital in Delhi where the woman was being treated on Tuesday and clashed with police.
Bhim’s army leader, Chandrashehar Azad, has called on Dalits across India to take to the streets to demand that the attackers be hanged.
The 19-year-old woman was mowing grass to feed the family’s five dairy buffaloes when she was abducted by a group of upper-caste men on Sept. 14, according to her brother, Satender Kumar.
Her tongue was cut and her spinal cord was broken after she was dragged by a rope around her neck, Mr Kumar said. He said the arrests came only after days of complaints to the police. His sister was initially treated at a hospital in Uttar Pradesh before being moved to New Delhi.
Mr Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, said in another tweet that a special investigation team had been set up to take over the case and that a report would be presented within a week.
After the woman died at a hospital in New Delhi, her body was taken back to Uttar Pradesh, where police seized her body in the early hours of Wednesday and took her to be cremated without the family, ostensibly to try to silence the case, said Mr. n Kumar.
“They took the body by force, attacked family members and cremated my sister overnight,” he said. “The police did not allow us near the cremation.”
Hatras police did not immediately comment on the family’s allegations. But District Magistrate Pravine Kumar Laxcar told reporters on Wednesday that it was not true that family members had not been admitted to the cremation.
Dalits are particularly vulnerable to caste-based discrimination, and Dalit women are sexually assaulted thousands of times a year, according to human rights groups.
The horrific reports of rape, often followed by retaliatory violence if victims or their families speak, have become painfully familiar in India. Whether the rape report rises above the dynamics in order to receive national notice is often determined by the dynamics of the class and caste.
A shocking gang of a female student who was raped on a bus in New Delhi in 2012, which later led to her death, fueled a nationwide protest, with protesters demanding reform. But the country’s overcrowded judiciary continues to move slowly. Four men convicted in the 2012 case were hanged in late 2019 after exhausting their appeals.
The police killing of four suspects in the alleged gang rape of a 27-year-old veterinarian last year in the southern state of Hyderabad was widely hailed as a speedy decision by Indian justice.
Swati Malival, head of the Delhi Women’s Commission, went on a hunger strike in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s mausoleum in New Delhi last year, urging lawmakers to pass a bill to force courts to execute rapists within six months of conviction.
On Wednesday, Malival said in a public statement that the Hatras case had “embarrassed the entire nation” and that she had written to the chief judge of India’s Supreme Court, “pleading for justice for the girl”.
The teenager’s death this week was followed by a series of alarming reports of rape in India as the country battled a coronavirus pandemic. In one case in the southern state of Kerala, an ambulance driver was accused of raping a Covid-19 patient while taking her to a hospital. In August, the mutilated body of a 13-year-old child was found in a sugar cane field in Uttar Pradesh, near the border with Nepal. In July, a 6-year-old girl was abducted and raped in the southern state of Madhya Pradesh, and her eyes were severely wounded in an attempt to prevent her from identifying her attackers.
According to the latest data from the Indian government, the police registered 33,658 cases of rape in 2017 – an average of 92 per day and a 35 percent jump compared to 2012, when fast-track courts were introduced for rape cases. About 10,000 of the reported victims are children.
Harry Kumar reports from New Delhi and Emily Schmal from Chicago.