NEW DELHI, 30 Sept 2020:
The death of a Dalit – the marginalised “lower castes” of the Hindu society – woman yesterday, after being gang-raped by a group of men from the powerful upper castes, has caused an uproar in India – a country where violence against women, especially from marginalised groups, continues to be a major issue.
The 19-year-old victim had remained hospitalised since Sept 14 after being raped and attacked by four men in a village in the Hathras district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The woman had gone out with her mother to collect grass from a field at night when she got separated and was waylaid at a dark place, where the attackers allegedly raped and tried to strangulate her – according to the victim’s complaint, narrated in a statement by Hathras police.
The victim suffered multiple fractures and was first admitted at a hospital in Uttar Pradesh; and was shifted in a critical condition to the more advanced Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi on Monday, where she died the next morning.
The victims’ families has alleged the police did not act promptly after their complaint, although authorities have denied this.
“All four accused have already been arrested and sent to jail. The charge of murder (section 302, IPC) has been added to the case. After a rapid investigation and collecting evidence, the case will be heard in a fast track court,” Hathras police said in statement on Twitter
The death of the young woman unleashed an outcry on social media, with netizens demanding justice for the victim and accusing the government of Uttar Pradesh of failing to protect either women or Dalits.
“Speak about the reality of assaults on Dalit women and girls. Connect dots, show larger picture of structural violence against Dalits, Dalit women. Don’t isolate, exceptionalise this case as a gruesome aberration,” tweeted renowned feminist activist Kavita Krishnan.
Dalit leader and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati also demanded that local authorities offer all possible help to the victim’s family and ensure rapid punishment to the aggressors.
Local news channels aired images of protests in Hathras and some places in New Delhi, such as outside the hospital where the victim died, where members of Dalit rights group Bhim Army gathered and demanded capital punishment for the culprits.
India witnessed massive protests against violence against women after December 2012, when the brutal gang-rape and murder of a young physiotherapist onboard a bus in Delhi had sent shockwaves across the country.
The case marked a turning point in the country and laws against sexual violence were hardened, while the process to hand capital punishment to some of the aggressors was also accelerated, although critics have said the measures have been insufficient and failed to stop the violence.