Thousands took to the streets in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata shocked by the death of a 16 year old girl who succumbed to her injuries after being brutally gang raped and set on fire in three separate attacks.
Several men raped the 16 year old on October 26 near her family’s home in Madhyagram town, about 25 kilometers north of Kolkata, police said. The following day she filed a complaint to the police and on the way back home she was raped again. According to the victim’s family, she was raped by the same men.
On December 23, assailants poured kerosene on the victim and set her ablaze after she refused to withdraw the rape complaint, the police said as cited by IBN. The girl died from sustained injuries on New Year’s Eve in hospital.
Initial media reports suggested the victim of rape committed suicide by self-immolation. However, the girl denied the allegations.
“She gave us a dying declaration in front of the health officials that she was set on fire by two persons close to the accused when she was alone at home on December 23,” local policeman Nimbala Santosh Uttamrao told AFP.
The family and the CITU (Center of India’s Trade Unions) decided to keep the body at Peace Haven mortuary in the city and hold a condolence rally the next day.
However, local police forcefully tried to take away the body for cremation on Tuesday night without the family’s consent, according to local media reports. They came to the house of the family and demanded the death certificate that would allow cremation. The victim’s father claimed that the police threatened the whole family and told him to relocate from the area after he refused their demands.
The incident sparked protests in the city of Kolkata as thousands took to the streets on Wednesday in a show of solidarity. CITU took control of the body with the permission of the family members, according to Hindustan Times, and supporters gathered for a huge rally with the body.
"The police took away the body forcefully and tried to cremate it at the Nimatala Ghat crematorium, but could not do so as the death certificate was in possession of the girl's father. After the news spread, we too rushed to the crematorium and protested forcing the police to retreat," said Communist party state secretariat member Rabin Deb, the local Jagran Post reported.
The Kolkata police, however have denied the allegations.
“It is a totally false allegation. Whatever was done was done in consultation with Bidhahnagar Police, under whose jurisdiction the girl's house falls, and the family members. We did not forcefully take away any body," joint commissioner of police Rajeev Mishra told PTI.
Six men were arrested in connection with the two rape attacks, two months after the initial crime, police said.
According to IBN reports, two men were detained on Wednesday in connection with the third attack. They are reportedly the landlords of the victim's family Ratan Sil and Minta Sil. However it is not clear whether they took part in rape attacks.
The victim’s father, a taxi driver, also accused the state-run RG Kar Medical College and Hospital, where the girl was treated for the burns, of medical negligence. He reportedly filed a complaint to the governor. It is understood that the man also asked for protection for his family.
Activists are questioning the role of the police in the case, stating that the second rape could have been prevented if the police were more alert.
"The girl was gang-raped once before going to the police station, and while returning, she was gang raped again. I don't think the role of police is right in this case. If the police had been alert, then they could have prevented her from being raped again. The chief minister should take up this case very seriously," said National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Mamta Sharma on Wednesday as cited by The Times of India.
The issue of sexual assaults on women in India has been in the spotlight since the gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus in December 2012. The case led to widespread protests across the country and ignited an intense debate over the rights of women.
In March India’s parliament introduced tougher rape laws, including the death penalty for repeat offenders and those whose victims are left in a "vegetative state."
According to activists the victims often face severe threats from their attackers and the country’s conviction rate for rape crimes is one of the lowest in the world. National Crime Records Bureau statistics suggests that a woman is raped every 20 minutes In India.