Indian Police use water cannons to disperse women's rights protesters after gang-rape and murder

 

Delhi

Police in northern India used water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters who were demonstrating against the authorities’ seeming inability to halt sexual attacks and violence against women.

The protesters, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which controls India’s federal government, were demonstrating outside the headquarters of the administration of Uttar Pradesh state, which has been the location of a flurry of rapes and attacks.

The BJP protesters demanded that the state government, headed by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, do more to improve security for women. They have accused Mr Yadav and his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who heads the ruling party in UP, of being soft on crimes against women.

The protests follow the rape and murder last week of two cousins, who were seized and assaulted after they went into the fields to relieve themselves. The girls, believed to be aged between 12 and 14, were then hanged from a mango tree on the edge of the village using their own scarves.

Relatives said when the girls went missing, police refused to investigate the case and abused them over their low-caste status. The family’s caste is at the very bottom of the Hindu social structure, whereas the three alleged attackers and the police officers on duty belong to the yadav caste, which is the “dominant” caste in the area. Five people - the three suspects, who are brothers, and two police officers - have been detained.

 

Since the discovery of the girls’ bodies last Wednesday morning, a number of politicians have made their way to the simple shack occupied by the girls’ extended family in the village of Katra Sadatganj, 150 miles west of the state capital, Lucknow. The most recent of them was Ram Vilas Paswan, a central government minister who is also from a low caste.

During a visit on Monday, he also criticised the UP state government for failing to do more to protect the girls.

“If you are not being able to provide right to life, then what kind of government this is,” he asked, according to reports in the Indian media.

The state government in UP is run by the the Samajwadi Party, which draws much of its support from the yadav caste. During India’s recent election campaign, the head of the party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, sparked controversy by saying rapists should not receive the death penalty because “boys will be boys”.

The sprawling state of UP is has a population of around 200 million people and is considered India’s most important state politically as it returns 80 seats to the country’s parliament. But it is also known for poor social indicators, a lack of amenities and development, and widespread crimes against women.

Experts say that since the December 2012 gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi, there is a greater willingness to report such attacks and greater pressure on the police to investigate them.

“UP seems to be a place which is notorious for these things,” said Dr Prabha Kotiswaran of King’s College London. “The fact that Mulayam Singh Yadav was able to say those things and get away with that is indicative of the mindset that is prevailing.”

Dr Kotiswaran said that in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape, the government had introduced new legislation for dealing with such crimes and a fast-track system of courts. The problem was enforcing such laws. “The criminal justice system is a shambles,” she added.

On Monday it was also revealed police were trying to ascertain the identity of a young woman who was strangled to death and had acid poured on her face. The attack took place about 60 miles from the village where two girls were murdered last week.

Officers said the body of the woman, believed to be aged 22, was discovered on Saturday in a field in the village of Aithpura, close to the city of Bareilly.

Initial reports said the woman had been raped, made to drink acid and strangled. Her face had later been mutilated with acid and petrol, apparently in an attempt to hide her identity.

But the senior investigating officer, Supt Ravindra Gaur, told The Independent that while the woman had been murdered and her face destroyed by acid, post-mortem examination results showed she had not been raped.

“We are still trying to identify the body,” he said. “[We believe] the acid was poured on her to conceal her identity.”

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