Untouchable burnt to death after accusing high-caste man of rape

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The Independent Online

Asha Katiya was 15 years old. When she was raped she did not, like many Indian women, try to hide it for shame. She went to the police and registered a case against her attacker. She later said he had threatened to kill her unless she dropped the case. This week she was burned to death. A man broke into her house while she was sleeping and poured kerosene over her. The man she accused of raping her has been detained in connection with her death.

But there has been no outcry in India. The case has been barely reported. Because Asha Katiya was a Dalit, a member of the former Untouchable caste, and India has become used to outrages like this being carried out against Dalits.

The man Asha accused of raping her, and who her family say killed her, comes from an upper-caste family. Even as Asha lay dying, upper-caste neighbours refused to take her to hospital, according to relatives.

Asha accused a local upper-caste man of raping her last year. It was no small matter for her to go to the police in Indian rural society, where being a victim of rape is still considered deeply shameful.

India's cities may be changing fast, but Asha came from Sahalwada, a small village in Madhya Pradesh state, part of the great rural hinterland where there is barely a sign of India's emergence as an economic power. In the villages, a man accused of rape may be found guilty and punished by the courts. But a woman who comes forward as a rape victim is certain of her punishment by society. She faces little prospect of marriage, and life for an unmarried woman in the villages is bleak.

As she lay dying of her injuries in hospital on Wednesday, Asha allegedly told police that the upper caste man was her murderer, and that he had previously threatened to kill her unless she changed her statement so the charges against him would be dropped. Her mother, Shashibai, told The Indian Express the family was preparing to flee but Asha was killed before they could leave. An aunt has also come forward to the suspect as as the man she saw fleeing after the incident. But the alleged rapists parents say he was with them when the incident occurred.

The incident is the latest attack on Dalits in India. It comes even as protests are continuing in Maharashtra state over the murder of four members of a Dalit family in a village there. They were killed by upper-caste residents because they refused to hand over a field they owned so locals could build a road over it.

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