UNNAO, India, Dec 7, (RTRS): A 23-year-old rape victim set on fire by a gang of men, which included her alleged rapists, has died in a New Delhi hospital, prompting protests from opposition leaders who blamed the ruling party for failing to check incidents of violence against women.
The woman was on her way to board a train in Unnao district of northern Uttar Pradesh state to attend a court hearing over her rape when she was doused with kerosene and set on fire on Thursday, according to police.
She was airlifted to New Delhi for treatment later that day. The attack, the second major case of violence against women in the past two weeks, has sparked public outrage in India.
The woman died on Friday after suffering a cardiac arrest, Dr Shalabh Kumar, the head of burns and plastic department at New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital told Reuters. “She was having 95% burns,” he said, adding the woman’s wind pipe was burnt and “toxic and hot fumes” had filled her lungs.
The woman had filed a complaint with Unnao police in March alleging she had been raped at gun-point on Dec 12, 2018, police documents showed. The woman named two local men, one of them was arrested by police, the other absconded. Having been subsequently jailed, the alleged rapist was released last week after securing bail, police officer S.K. Bhagat said in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state.
On Thursday, the rape victim was seized by five men, including the two people she had named in her complaint, and beaten, stabbed and set on fire, local media reported citing her statement to police.
Still ablaze, she walked nearly a kilometre, seeking help before finally calling the police herself, according to Aaj Taj TV news channel. All five of the accused have been arrested and are in 14-day judicial custody, Vikrant Vir, superintendent of police, Unnao, told Reuters.
A fast-track court would hear the case and the guilty would not be spared, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said. In India, lengthy trials, often a result of fewer courts and judges, tend to delay convictions, leaving poor, disillusioned victims with little money and patience to pursue the case. Also, long trials result in bails to the accused who often intimidate victims and their witnesses, and try tampering with evidence.
The victim’s father has alleged that his family was been harassed and threatened by the family of the accused. “We tried to seek protection as the accused and their family kept threatening my daughter and my family, but we received little help from the government,” he said. “Now, every single accused should be either hanged or shot dead.”
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state and has become notorious for its poor record regarding crimes against women, with more than 4,200 cases of rape reported there in 2017 – the highest in the country. Opposition leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, general secretary of India’s main opposition Congress party, accused the Uttar Pradesh government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, of failing to curb crimes against women. In an earlier incident in Unnao, a young woman had accused Uttar Pradesh lawmaker Kuldeep Singh Sengar of raping her in 2017.
In July last year, the victim and her lawyer were critically injured in a highway collision, when a truck hit the car in which they were travelling. The woman’s two aunts, who were also in the car, were killed in the accident.
Sengar denies the rape and any involvement in the car crash. On Friday, Indian police shot dead four men who were suspected of raping and killing a 27-year-old veterinarian near Hyderabad city, drawing applause from across the country angry over violence against women. But many were also concerned that police had over reached in shooting the alleged suspects without any trial.
“What will it take (to end rapes)? Not the encounter of just the poor men who rape but swift arrest and certain punishment of all rapists, however powerful or closely related to the victim,” said Karuna Nundy, a lawyer practising at India’s Supreme Court who was instrumental in shaping anti-rape laws in 2013.
“And that takes real change, it’s not as easy as passing a legal amendment to increase sentencing.” How can women reclaim the streets when they fear venturing out alone? That was the challenge faced by the organisers of a street festival in New Delhi held to encourage Indian women to reclaim public spaces this week, as the country reeled from the latest gang rape and murder to hit the headlines.
“It seemed that most women came with their families, male friends or partners,” said Kiran, a police inspector who goes by one name, of the Step Out At Night festival organised by the city authorities on Thursday night. “We hoped women would come without fear … but maybe this needs to be done more often to make them feel safe enough to do so,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday. India has a grim record of sexual violence against women, with an average of some 90 rapes reported each day in 2017, according to latest federal data.
Thursday’s event came amid angry protests over the gang-rape and murder of a 27-year-old veterinarian near the southern city of Hyderabad last week. Four suspects were shot dead during a reconstruction of the crime early on Friday by police who said they had tried to seize weapons. the killings drewing praise from many on social media but raised concerns over due process. India strengthened its laws on sexual violence against women after the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus that led to an outpouring of anger. But critics say enforcement remains weak.
On Thursday, a rape victim was set alight by a gang of men as she made her way to court. In Delhi, dubbed India’s “rape capital” due to high levels of sexual violence, hundreds of women turned out for the festival, which included music and dance performances and gender equality themed games including snakes and ladders. One female lawmaker tweeted a photo from the festival which showed her eating street food with a small group of women and throngs of men in the background.