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Death of woman set ablaze in India sparks anger

August 30, 2022

The 19-year-old was allegedly killed in Jharkhand state by her stalker after she rejected his advances. The death has highlighted violence against women in India, as well as local political and religious strife.

Protesters in India
Protesters in 2020 marched in defense of womens' rights in IndiaImage: Ashish Vaishnav/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

Police in India's eastern Jharkhand state on Tuesday announced that they were forming a special investigative unit to look into the alleged murder of a 19-year-old woman. The death has created fresh outrage about misogynistic crimes in the country, as well as highlighting religious tensions and political turmoil in the region.

The victim, named as Ankita, was from the district of Dumka and in her final year of high school. She was allegedly doused in kerosene while sleeping and set on fire by a local man who had begun stalking her when she rejected his marriage proposal. She was treated in hospital for six days but succumbed to her injuries on Sunday.

The following day, protesters marched through the streets demanding justice for Ankita, and the situation eventually got so out of control that security services had to restore order. District authorities have restricted the movement of people to prevent any fallout from the incident.

Local Hindu groups and politicians have called for the alleged perpetrator, who is in police custody, to be handed the death penalty and have suggested that he killed Ankita out of religious malice because she was a Hindu and he is a Muslim. Dumka has a large Hindu majority at 79% of the population, while only 8% of its inhabitants are Muslim.

Accusations of a breakdown in law and order

Opposition politicians have said that Ankita's death highlights how law and order has broken down in Jharkhand.

"After the cruelty meted out to Ankita, her death has made every Indian bow their heads in shame," Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the main opposition Congress party, said on Twitter.

"Today, there is a dire need to create a safe environment for women in the country."

According to The Times of India, the murder has prompted political mudslinging in Jharkhand, where a top politician from the ruling coalition has recently been accused of graft.

Although Jharkhand is home to more than 40% of India's mineral resources, corruption and mismangement has led to a situation where 39% of the population lives below the poverty line and malnourishment in small children is a serious problem. Most of its 33 million inhabitants live in rural areas, and it has lagged behind other poor states in terms of development for much of the past 20 years.

The murder also sparked outrage about violence against women in India. According to the UN, the prevalence of domestic violence, sexual violence, and femicide is why India consistently ranks in the bottom 20% of its Gender Inequality Index.

es/nm (Reuters, dpa)