HYDERABAD: Hundreds of people yesterday laid siege to a police station where four men are being held over the latest gruesome rape-murder to shock India. Baton-wielding police pushed back crowds from the building in the southern city of Hyderabad where they said the 27-year-old veterinary doctor was gang-raped, killed and then her body burned. While the suspects were quickly detained, the killing sparked new outrage in a country that has been in the international spotlight over its handling of sex assaults since the brutal gang-rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus in 2012.
“How anyone could subject another human being to such terrible, unprovoked violence is beyond imagination,” said former opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi on Twitter. Police had to bring in reinforcements to bolster security around the Hyderabad police station. The suspects appeared before a magistrate for what was expected to be the start of “fast-track” proceedings later yesterday. They were remanded in judicial custody for 14 days, police said.
The victim’s mother demanded that the culprits be burnt alive, the Times of India newspaper quoted her as saying. The incident is reminiscent of the fatal gang rape of a young woman, labelled Nirbhaya (Fearless) by Indian media, on board a bus in 2012. The crime sparked widespread protests and drew international attention to violence against women in India. The current case has also provoked outrage on social media with #HangRapists trending on Twitter in India. “It has been 7 yrs to the gut-wrenching #Nirbhaya case & our moral fabric continues to be in pieces,” Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar tweeted. “We need stricter laws. This needs to STOP!”
Yesterday, police were criticized as protests spread to other cities. A woman who tried to stage a one-person demonstration outside the Indian parliament in New Delhi said she was beaten by police after refusing to go home. Anu Dubey had sat outside the assembly carrying a sign questioning why she could not “feel safe” in her own country. “The only purpose of this protest is to ensure that I am not burned to death tomorrow,” she told reporters later, fighting back tears.
“That woman died, other girls have also died. Every 20 minutes, there is a rape in India. I don’t want to die. And I can’t be a spectator to any more rape cases. I’m tired of seeing such cases over and over again,” she said. According to government figures, more than 32,000 rape cases were reported in 2017, however, experts say that the crime is vastly unreported. Other cases reported yesterday included a 16-year-old girl who died in a Delhi hospital 10 days after being allegedly raped by a neighbor and then set ablaze.
Police said the 27-year-old Hyderabad vet, who cannot be named, was abducted on Wednesday night after she left her scooter near an expressway toll booth. The four men are alleged to have deflated a tyre whilst she was away and offered to help when she returned to collect it. The victim called her younger sister to say she was stranded and that a group of men had offered to fix her scooter. The woman said she was “afraid”, according her sister’s testimony to police. The sister called back later but the victim’s phone was switched off.
Police said the ashes of the woman’s body were found on Thursday morning. The body had been wrapped in a blanket and doused with kerosene. The killing has set off a firestorm of social media comment, many calling for a tough reaction. “The culprits must be given severest punishment,” commented Rajasthan state’s chief minister Ashok Gehlot, one of tens of thousands to post Twitter comments.
Women’s groups turned against a minister in Telegana state, which includes Hyderabad, who said the dead woman could have been saved if she had called police first instead of her sister. “Is there no shame,” hit back Swati Maliwal, head of the Delhi Women’s Commission. “Now the blame is being put on the dead victim.”
India’s National Commission for Women condemned the incident, with its head Rekha Sharma saying it “won’t leave any stone unturned till these perpetrators get the punishment they deserve”. The commission advises the government on policy regarding women’s rights and aims to provide a voice for issues ranging from sexual exploitation to employment, but has no judicial powers.
Yesterday, around 30 protesters including college students rallied outside a police station in central Delhi, carrying placards demanding justice and an end to crime against women. “If your blood doesn’t boil even now, it’s not blood but water,” they chanted. One of the protesters, student Kanchan Pal, 19, said she wanted to raise her voice in support of rape victims. “Women are being raped everywhere, whether it is Delhi or Hyderabad or any other state,” said Pal. “We don’t feel safe.” – Agencies