Hundreds of protesters on Friday demanded the dismissal of the government of a northern Indian state where a 19-year-old woman from India’s lowest caste was allegedly gang-raped and later died in a hospital.
They carried placards and shouted “Hang the rapists” and ”First raped by devils, then by the system” as they assembled at Jantar Mantar, on open area close to Parliament in New Delhi.
The protesters, including Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar, said the Uttar Pradesh state government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, was not allowing anyone to meet the victim’s family, with police cordoning off their village.
They accused authorities of trying to hush up the crime. Police say they have arrested four suspects, all from an upper caste.
Indian television news channels on Friday showed their journalists being refused entry to the village by large numbers of police. An officer outside the village said the media would be allowed in after the investigation is completed.
Bhaskar said the hasty cremation of the victim’s body without the family’s approval showed the callousness of the state government. She demanded the dismissal of Yogi Adiyanath, the state’s top elected official.
The woman was cremated early Wednesday, with the family alleging that police did not allow them to perform her final rites. Videos on social media show the family weeping as police insisted on cremating the body without allowing them to take it home.
A leader of the main opposition Congress party, Priyanka Gandhi, who was prevented by police from visiting the family on Thursday with her brother, Rahul Gandhi, said at a prayer meeting at a temple in New Delhi on Friday that blocking off the village was an injustice to the family and showed that the state is unsafe for women.
Dalits — formerly known as “untouchables” and at the bottom of India’s Hindu caste hierarchy — are victims of thousands of attacks each year. According to human rights organisations, Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to caste-based discrimination and sexual violence.
In India, rape and sexual violence have been under the spotlight since the 2012 gang-rape and killing of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus. The attack galvanised massive protests and inspired lawmakers to order the creation of fast-track courts dedicated to rape cases and stiffen penalties for those convicted of the crime.
Header image: Protestors gather to raise their voices against the gang rape and killing of a woman in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh, in New Delhi, India, Friday. — AP