NEW DELHI: A Dalit teenager allegedly raped by four upper-caste men died of her injuries on Tuesday, sparking outrage from Indian activists, politicians and Bollywood stars.
India’s 200 million low-caste “untouchable” Dalits have long faced discrimination and abuse, and campaigners say attacks have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 19-year-old woman was brutally assaulted in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Sept 14, according to a complaint filed by the family with police. The four accused have been arrested, according to the authorities.
Found lying in a pool of blood and paralysed from injuries to her neck and spine, the woman was rushed to a local hospital before being brought to New Delhi on Monday as her condition worsened.
“She died during the course of treatment on Tuesday morning. We will ensure swift investigation and trial in the case,” Hathras district police chief Vikrant Vir said.
The news comes months after four men were hanged for the brutal gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi in 2012 — a case which came to symbolise the nation’s problem with sexual violence, gaining worldwide notoriety and being turned into a Netflix TV show. Bollywood personalities, cricket stars and women’s rights activists took to social media to condemn this month’s attack.
“Sad, sad day. How much longer can this be allowed to go on,” wrote director-producer Farhan Akhtar.
“What happened in #Hathras is inhumane and goes beyond cruelty. Hope the culprits of this heinous crime will be brought to justice,” cricket megastar Virat Kohli tweeted.
Activist Kavita Krishnan said the attack reflected the “larger picture of structural violence” against Dalit women.
Priyanka Gandhi, a member of the opposition Congress party, blamed the assault on the deteriorating law-and-order situation in Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
Women in India are subjected to alarming levels of sexual assaults, irrespective of their caste or class.
Nearly 34,000 rapes were reported in the country in 2018, but the figures are considered the tip of the iceberg, with many victims too scared to come forward.Her case was the latest in a string of gruesome crimes against women in India that have given it the dismal reputation of being one of the worst places in the world to be female.
Every 15 minutes on average, a woman in India is reported raped, according to 2018 government data released this year.
“There is next to no protection for women. Criminals are openly committing crimes,” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said on Twitter.
Hundreds of protesters gathered inside the hospital premises on Tuesday, where they jostled with police and briefly blocked traffic on a main thoroughfare. Dalits, at the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy, complain they are denied equal protection under the law because of prejudice.
Activists from the Bhim Army, a party championing Dalit rights, chanted slogans near the hospital’s mortuary, where the woman’s body was kept. Dozens of paramilitary troops were deployed nearby as evening fell.
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2020