One week before Christmas, a 16-year-old raped by more than 600 men in India ended her life, triggering condemnation from members of both major political parties, even as police say they’re investigating similar cases in a northeastern state and aren’t sure if the recent spate of crimes is connected.
Most are still unidentified.
On New Year’s Eve, the girl in Gangetic West Bengal went missing. The next day, her family noticed a stain on her face from an open wound. They found out her injuries were from the night before, when her abductors tied her to a tree and gang-raped her.
After carrying out the assault, the men then threw her unconscious body into a local stream, police said.
Family members found her dead Monday, but they say police did not reach the scene for more than 12 hours.
On Wednesday, the girl’s father and another family member were stabbed to death, and a criminal investigation was launched.
At a news conference on Wednesday, police and investigators said the girl’s injuries were consistent with many of the 750 gang-rape cases reported in India this year. They also said that the pattern of abuse didn’t match those seen in other parts of the country.
“At this time of the year, if someone were to say there was more gang-rape cases in the north or the east or the south, it would be wrong,” police spokesman L.D. Kumar said. “Rape cases are on the rise and it is very likely that the gang-rape cases, which have been registered, will take place.”
But members of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which was in power for more than two decades, and the ruling Congress party condemned the families’ allegations of police inaction.
“We are horrified by this case,” Bharatiya Janata Party spokeswoman Gaurav Gogoi said. “We had been documenting and discussing the rise in these cases for quite some time. This is very alarming.”
Police said the investigation into the girl’s death was hindered by a lack of local resources. Most rape victims in Bangladesh and Bangladesh’s southeast come from poorer communities and often lack food, water and shelter when they reach hospitals.
Kumar said of the victims in West Bengal’s lower-caste community, most receive less than 5,000 rupees ($70) for medical treatment. It was unclear whether the girl’s family received assistance from the government, but, Kumar said, it was clear that doctors did not reach them for 12 hours.
Meanwhile, even as the Gangetic West Bengal rape case and many others are probed, police in northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state are investigating at least one reported case of three adult men who allegedly gang-raped a 16-year-old.
Three men were also found to have raped a 19-year-old woman in Madhya Pradesh state, where police said three men raped a 15-year-old girl in October.
There are few numbers, though, on the number of rape survivors in India, a country of 1.3 billion people, and few survivors report the crimes. Police suggest about 90 percent of rapes go unreported.
In July, a top court in India ordered that all crimes against children, even those not involving rape, should receive special protection. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the country’s law dealing with rape of children was not adequate, given the number of children who are often “deliberately targeted by other offenders, for sexual exploitation, molestation and other offences.”
The court said it would expedite a system to track sexual violence against children and recommended giving them counseling and legal help.
But child advocates have also blamed India’s judicial system for inadequately handling such cases, including overlooking a plea for protection offered by the girl’s mother in the days before her death.
The girl’s father told media that he and his daughter had no resources to protect her, and that the government knew of the case since her mother had made a complaint.
On Thursday, the family asked police to arrest the defendants and provide family members with a job and a monthly salary of 1,500 rupees to support the victims.
Kumar said that police received the complaint earlier and were still investigating.