When the woman was assaulted by two men near her home, she did everything she could think of to get justice.
The 20-year-old, who lives in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, was working in the fields when two brothers tried to drag her away. She escaped by biting their hands, then fleeing.
The woman told her family what happened. Together, they went to the police to report the attack. But they were turned away by officials, her family alleges.
Two days later, the woman’s father returned to the station to file a second complaint. “We waited for the police to come for inquiries the entire day, but no one came,” the woman’s brother, Vinod Kumar, told Reuters.
Instead, the two brothers tracked the woman down as she worked. They poured kerosene on her and set her on fire. She is in the hospital with serious burns covering 40 percent of her body, according to the regional police superintendent, Prabhakar Chaudhary.
A senior police officer told reporters that he was investigating why the initial complaint was not registered. The three officers who turned the woman away have been suspended for “neglecting” their duty.
Sexual assault is a chronic problem in India, and women who report their crimes to the police are ignored, harassed or sometimes worse. Though the country enacted tough new laws against convicted rapists in 2012 — convicted attackers face much harsher penalties, up to and including the death penalty — studies show that the number of sexual assaults has climbed.
At the same time, a small fraction of such crimes is reported. Even fewer get the attention of police. Between 2012 and 2016, police investigated only a third of the crimes reported to them.
“Rights groups have accused Indian police of bowing to pressure from local politicians to bury investigations. In some cases, investigations of sexual assault have evaporated out of sheer police apathy,” Reuters reported.
And women who do report their crimes often face not only apathy but also violence. In just one week this year, three teenage girls were burned alive after speaking out against rape and sexual assault. In one instance, a 16-year-old was soaked in fuel and set on fire after threatening to tell her family about a rape. In another, a 16-year-old’s parents complained to village elders about a rape.
Her attackers were ordered to do sit-ups and pay a fine as punishment. But even that relatively light sentence angered the attackers, who beat the woman’s parents, then killed her.
“Rape is increasingly used as an instrument to assert power and intimidate the powerless in India,” according to the BBC.