Cultural change needed to fight rape in India

Rape happens about once every 15 minutes in India. Swati Maliwal lays out how the culture in the country needs to change to get rid of that horrific statistic.

Posted: May 8, 2018 6:00 AM
Updated: May 8, 2018 6:02 AM

A second teenage girl is reported to have been raped and set on fire in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, just days after a 16-year-old was similarly attacked in the same state.

It is the latest in a series of brutal crimes against women across India in recent months that have sparked outrage and large protests nationwide.

In response to earlier incidents, thousands of people took to the streets across the country in late April, in some of the largest demonstrations seen in India since the highly publicized rape and murder of a female collage student in Delhi in 2012.

The latest victim, a 17-year-old girl, was being treated in a local hospital Monday afternoon after suffering burns to 70% of her body, according to Shailendra Prasad Barnwal, superintendent of police in Jharkhand's Pakur district.

The news came on the same day as the country's Supreme Court ruled that the high-profile trial of the men accused of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in the north of country must be moved to a different state, following threats leveled against the victim's family.

The 17-year-old in the latest attack was in the house of a relative when the accused, whom she knew previously, entered and allegedly sexually assaulted her before setting her on fire and fleeing the scene.

Neighbors heard the girl crying for help and rescued her, taking her to the hospital, Barnwal said.

"She is being treated and her condition is normal as of now. Every organ is functioning normally. She is talking and responding to our questions," he said.

A local man was arrested in connection with the attack, according to police. Nobody has been charged as yet, however, and investigations are continuing.

Woman attacked for reporting rape

The first reported attack in Jharkhand took place on Friday. The victim, a 16-year-old girl, is alleged to have been burned to death in an apparent revenge attack carried out after she reported a previous gang-rape attack to village chiefs, investigators said.

Authorities believe the teenager's ordeal began after was kidnapped from her rural home Thursday night, from there she was taken to a nearby forest where she was raped by several men.

Her family later reported the incident to the local village council, who ordered the accused men to do 100 situps and imposed a fine of 50,000 rupees ($750). Offended by the penalty imposed on them, the men burned the victim's house down with her inside, authorities said.

In rural villages across India, village councils have traditionally helped to govern and manage local disputes. But in remote areas, where police officers and government agencies are spread thin, they also intervene on criminal matters, including rape, forced marriage and honor killings.

Police in Jharkhand quickly detained 15 people in relation to the crime, including the village chief. While the second attack also occurred in Jharkhand, Barnwal said there is no connection between the two brutal crimes, which took place on opposite sides of the state.

Around 100 sexual assaults are reported to police in India every day, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. There were nearly 39,000 alleged attacks in 2016, an increase of 12% on the previous year.

Last month, India's Cabinet passed an executive order introducing the death penalty for rapists of children under the age of 12. The change in the law will become permanent once it gains approval by India's Parliament, which is currently in recess.

Rape trial moved over concerns

The two reported cases in Jharkhand come amid a period of sustained public anger over the treatment of women and children, following the high-profile gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old child in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The killing in January triggered numerous protests, in particular because of the brutal, sectarian nature of the young girl's death.

A member of a Muslim nomadic community, she was abducted while grazing her horses and held captive for five days in a Hindu temple, where she was repeatedly sexually assaulted before being murdered.

The crime reignited India's deep-seated communal divisions within India. Three months after her death, a group of local politicians, Hindu nationalists and legal professionals launched a campaign in support of the eight accused, who are all Hindu.

Concerned over the impartiality and volatility of their home state, the girl's family asked India's Supreme Court to move the location of the trial, a petition that has been granted, according to the family's lawyer.

"It's a victory for us. That's what we have prayed for and the prayer has been granted," said Fernandes.

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