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India rape victim set on fire on way to case hearing

December 5, 2019

The girl was on her way to the court when a group of men, including two of her accused rapists, dragged her to a nearby field and set her on fire. Another rape case in India last week caused huge uproar in the country.

Protesters hold placards during a demonstration calling for justice following the recent rape and murder case of a 26-year-old veterinarian in Hyderabad, in New Delhi on November 30, 2019
Image: AFP/STR

A 23-year-old girl in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was fighting for her life after she was set ablaze on Thursday.

The girl was on her way to a hearing of her rape case when a group of men assaulted her, doused her in petrol before setting her on fire, according to local media reports.

She is being treated for severe burns, with doctors describing her condition as critical.

Police have arrested five men, including two men accused of her rape, on suspicion of the Thursday attack.

In March, the girl reported to police that she was raped by five men in December. Police arrested three of the men, while two others were still on the run.

"The victim has been referred to a hospital in Lucknow for better treatment. The victim had earlier filed a rape case and one of the accused in that case has also been rounded up," according to police.

Read more: Opinion: Rape becomes a political tool in India

Back-to-back cases

Thursday's incident occurred in Uttar Pradesh's Unnao district, where another girl was raped in July. Police opened a murder probe against a ruling party lawmaker after the 19-year-old girl was seriously injured in a car crash.

Read more: Is India the worst place in the world to be a woman?

The girl's family alleged that Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a legislator from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had engineered the accident.

Last week, a 27-year-old vet in the southern city of Hyderabad was raped and set on fire, sparking huge protests across the country. Jaya Bachchan, former Bollywood actress and a member of parliament, called for the "lynching" of rapists.

"I know it sounds harsh, but these kind of people should be brought out in public and lynched," Bachchan said in parliament.

Civil society groups also condemned the brutal incident as they held protests across the country.

India's rape problem

Crimes against women have been on the rise in the South Asian country. In 2012, the fatal gang-rape of a medical student on a moving bus shocked the country, and caused thousands of people to take to the streets to demand stricter rape laws.

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 caste, with women from the marginalized Dalit community very often the victims.

"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."

Read more: Caste dynamics behind sexual violence in India

In January last year, an 8-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir was brutally raped and murdered. The Muslim girl was allegedly kidnapped, confined using sedatives and repeatedly gang-raped in a temple. She was strangled and then hit with a heavy stone. BJP supporters and other Hindu groups rallied in support of the accused rapists — a development that divided the Kashmiri community.

Although the government has doubled prison terms for rapists to 20 years, civil society activists continue to demand a quicker implementation of the laws.

Read more: India's top court says sex with child bride is rape

According to the latest government figures, Indian police registered 33,658 cases of rape in 2017 — an average of 92 rapes every day.

Sexual harassment scandals shock Bollywood

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