Possible rape victim found hanging from tree in India amid string of brutal sexual assaults


Activists hold candles during a vigil to protest against the gang rape of two teenage girls, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 31, 2014. A string of brutal sexual assaults has shocked Indians. But the government dismisses criticism from the U.N. (Altaf Qadri/AP)

A 19-year-old woman was found hanging from a tree after allegedly being raped in an Indian village early Thursday, causing a fresh wave of outrage in a country still stunned over the recent fatal sexual assault of two teenage girls.

In spite of massive street demonstrations in the last two years protesting sexual assault and the passage of a tough new anti-rape law, incidents of rapes do not appear to have declined in India.

There were few facts available in the latest case in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. It involved a 10th-grade dropout who left her home without informing her parents, police said. The cause of death was not immediately confirmed; police said that there were no obvious signs of murder and that the woman might have committed suicide. But earlier in the day, her family told local reporters that she had been raped and killed.

Incidents of brutal sexual assault in India have drawn widespread international criticism recently.

But on Thursday, Indian officials rejected criticism from the U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, who said in a recent report that violence against Indian women occurred “from womb to tomb.”

The Indian government posted comments on the United Nations Human Rights Council Web site saying that her conclusion was simplistic and smacked of a “highly prejudiced state of mind.”

“Our leaders are in a state of complete denial,” said Akhila Singh, a member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association in New Delhi. “The government in Uttar Pradesh is busy trying to brush these incidents under the carpet. We have a strong anti-rape law now, but in the absence of political will and police action to implement these laws, the environment is becoming more and more hostile towards women and their freedom.”

In 2012, the fatal gang rape of a student in New Delhi prompted a massive national outcry. Parliament responded by passing a law that established the death penalty for fatal rapes and also criminalized offenses such as stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks.

A rape takes place every 20 minutes in India, according to records of cases brought to the attention of authorities. The state of Uttar Pradesh ranks fourth in India in the number of rape cases reported, with 1,963 in 2012 — nearly six rapes every day.

Still, Indians were stunned by the pixelated television images of the bodies of two girls found hanging from a mango tree in Katara Saadatganj village in Uttar Pradesh last month. The cousins, aged 14 and 15, had been raped and killed. Relatives of the lower-caste teenagers refused to bring the bodies down until the police filed a complaint of rape and murder.

“It seems that little has changed in rural India in the last thousand years,” said a report by a fact-finding team of the All India Democratic Women’s Association that visited the village. Analysts called the horrific case an expression of caste and male dominance.

Politicians have inflamed the situation by making statements that seem to downplay the gravity of sexual assault. Babulal Gaur, a senior minister in the state government in the neighboring state of Madhya Pradesh, said last week that rape is “sometimes right, sometimes wrong.”

India’s newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, broke his silence on the issue on Wednesday when he urged members of parliament to stop “politicizing rape.”

“Respect for women and their security should be a priority” for Indians, he said. “Governments will have to work strictly against this, else our own souls will not forgive us.”

Four gang rapes were reported on Thursday in different parts of Uttar Pradesh state, including one in which a woman was attacked by three officers inside a police station.

But the state’s chief minister, Akhilesh Singh Yadav, assured business leaders at a conference in New Delhi on Thursday that his state was a safe destination for their investment.

When reporters asked Yadav about the latest incidents, he said that the situation in his state was better than in many others.

The head of the National Commission for Women, Mamta Sharma, demanded Yadav’s resignation Thursday, saying his government is unable to protect women.

Rama Lakshmi has been with The Post's India bureau since 1990. She is a staff writer and India social media editor for Post World.
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