India rape victim dies after being set on fire on way to court | News | DW | 07.12.2019
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India rape victim dies after being set on fire on way to court

The woman, who was set alight by a gang of men, including two of her alleged rapists, has died in a New Delhi hospital. A series of rape cases in recent weeks have once again put sexual crimes in India in the spotlight.

A 23-year-old rape victim has died in a hospital in New Delhi after she was set on fire on Thursday by a gang of men, including two of her accused rapists.      

The woman died on Friday after suffering a cardiac arrest, Shalabh Kumar, the head of the burns and plastic department at New Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital, told Reuters news agency. "She was having 95% burns," he said, adding that the woman's windpipe was burnt and "toxic and hot fumes" had filled her lungs.

The woman was on her way to a court hearing over her rape case when a group of men assaulted her and doused her in petrol before setting her on fire, according to police in the northern district of Unnao. Police have arrested five men on suspicion of involvement in the attack.

In March, the woman filed a police complaint, saying she was raped at gunpoint by five men in December. Police arrested three suspects, while two others were still on the run.

Public outrage

A series of widely reported sexual attacks over the past weeks has triggered public outrage and, once again, put the spotlight on sexual crimes in India.

A week before the Unnao incident, a 27-year-old veterinarian was gang-raped and set on fire near Hyderabad, in the southern state of Telangana.

On Friday, police fatally shot four men held on suspicion of raping and killing the veterinarian after investigators took them to the crime scene. Police said the men grabbed their firearms and began shooting, forcing police to return fire. The suspects' deaths drew both praise and condemnation. While the victim's family and many people outraged over sexual violence applauded the killings, some rights groups and politicians criticized the police shooting, voicing concerns that the judicial process had been sidestepped.

Caste dynamics

In 2017, Indian police registered more than 32,500 cases of rape, according to the most recent government data.  

Independent researcher Smita Chakraborty, whose work focuses on India's prison system, said that India's social environment — and sexual aggression as part of popular culture — had made sexual violence appear more acceptable.

Chakraborty added that gang-rapes were often related to the caste system, with women from the marginalized Dalit community very vulnerable.

"The majority of gang-rapes have caste aggression — territorial aggression — behind them, and they are something that Dalit women and tribal women are routinely subjected to," said Chakraborty. "They are mostly related to social power structures."

Slow justice

Sexual violence in India made international headlines after the fatal gang-rape of a medical student on a moving bus in New Delhi in 2012.

The case shocked the country and sparked mass protests, with thousands of people taking to the streets to demand stricter laws to prevent such crimes. In response, the government has doubled prison terms for rapists to 20 years, but critics say the Indian legal system has proved to be notoriously slow. Rape cases often take years to conclude in Indian courts. 

sri/stb (Reuters, AP)

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