India: Nationwide protests to demand justice for rape victims

People in Mumbai city hold placards during a protest in support of rape victims [Punit Paranjpe/AFP]

Thousands of Indians have joined nationwide protests against the recent cases of rapes, including that of an eight-year-old girl, who was gang-raped and brutally murdered inside a temple in Jammu area of Indian-administered Kashmir.



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“Punish the guilty” was a rallying cry on Sunday in New Delhi, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore and other cities, according to India’s NDTV.

“Small little girls are being raped every day and the way this time it has happened, that people actually came and supported these rapists, this is (new) heights and this is the time that we should take it as an alarm,” Ved Amrita, a protester in New Delhi, told Associated Press news agency.

Asifa Bano, from the Bakerwal Muslim community, was gang-raped and murdered in Kathua district in January, but the case caused public outrage after lawyers tried to prevent the state police from filing a charge sheet last week. 

Leaders from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including two ministers from the Jammu and Kashmir government, organised rallies that defended the accused. The ministers were forced to resign on Saturday amid widespread public anger.

People participate in a candlelight vigil in Ahmedabad [Amit Dave/Reuters]

In the other case, a legislator from the BJP was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in June in Unnao of Uttar Pradesh.

Kuldeep Singh Sengar, 50, a member of the Uttar Pradesh state legislative assembly was arrested on Saturday following public outcry. Sengar is accused of abducting and raping a teenage girl a year ago.

In both cases, the police have been criticised for being slow to investigate, while the government has been slammed for protecting the accused.

Yet another raped girl’s body was found in Surat in Gujarat state on April 9. Police said on Sunday that they have not yet been able to establish the identity of the young girl, whose body with “86 injury marks” was found in the city’s suburbs.

Many protesters expressed particular anger at India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party for initially siding with the accused in the Kashmir case. The young victim was a Muslim and the accused are Hindus.

Vishal Dadlani, Indian singer and composer who joined the protests in the northern city of Chandigarh, told Times Now broadcaster: “As long as there are people in power who protect rapists, this will never stop.”

He also called for the creation of fast-track courts dedicated to dealing with rape cases.

The victim from Unnao tried to commit suicide outside Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence last Sunday, after inaction over a complaint in which she had alleged that Sengar had raped her.

Instead of acting on the complaint, the girl’s father was later picked up by the police and assaulted in custody. He died after the incident, NDTV reported.

A total of at least nine suspects, including the BJP legislator and four police officials, have been arrested in the two cases.

Crimes against women have been on the rise despite tough laws enacted in 2013 in the wake of the horrific gang rape of a Delhi woman and her subsequent death in 2012. The 2012 gang rape had triggered massive protests across the country.

Under the new legislation, prison terms for rapists were doubled to 20 years and criminalising voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.

According to National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016, incidents of the rape of children in India increased by over 82 percent compared with 2015.

A child takes part in a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua near Jammu and a teenager in Unnao in New Delhi [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]
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