Protests are continuing for the fourth day over the alleged gang rape, murder and forced cremation of a nine-year-old girl in the Indian capital, Delhi.
The girl’s parents have accused a Hindu priest and three others of attacking her when she had gone to fetch drinking water from the crematorium’s cooler.
Her mother said the gates were shut and she was threatened when she objected to her daughter’s cremation.
Police have registered a case of gang rape and murder and arrested the men.
Warning: some readers may find this story distressing.
The girl’s parents are Dalits – formerly untouchables – who make a living by begging outside a Sufi Muslim shrine located just across from the cremation ground in Delhi’s Nangal area. The girl was their only child.
Her mother told me that on Sunday evening, she had sent her daughter to fetch water from the crematorium, just a few metres from their shanty.
“When she didn’t return for over an hour, I went searching for her. At the crematorium, I found her lying on the ground. Her lips were blue, there was blood under her nose, she had bruises on her hands and arms and her clothes were wet.”
She said the priest and the three men advised her not to call the police, saying “they would insist on an autopsy and steal her organs and sell them”.
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She alleged that they shut the gates to prevent her from leaving, threatened her and even offered to bribe her.
The child’s father said that by the time he, along with about 150 villagers, reached the crematorium, their daughter’s body was mostly burned.
The villagers said they called the police and doused the pyre with water, but could only retrieve her legs – which means a post mortem exam to confirm rape would not be possible.
A senior police official said that based on the information from the parents, a case of gang rape, murder and forced cremation had been registered against the accused.
The incident is compared to a Dalit teenage mass rape and murder allegedly carried out last year by four senior caste men in the town of Hathras in northern Uttar Pradesh. The incident caused worldwide anger after police forcibly cremated her body despite protests by her family.
Located at the bottom of the relentless Hindu caste hierarchy, Dalits are one of India’s most oppressed citizens.
The majority of the 200 million Dalits are poor, and despite the laws that protect them, they continue to be subject to daily discrimination from upper castes and authorities.
And Dalit women face three burdens: poverty, gender bias and caste discrimination.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Nangal crematorium on Wednesday, demanding the accused to die.
They also accused them of harassing the victims’ families and called for the suspension of some local police officers.
Delhi’s Prime Minister Arvind Keziwar and senior opposition parliamentary leader Rahul Gandhi visited the children’s families and offered to help them gain justice.
Protesters from Congress burned a portrait of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of not blaming the crime.
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Over the past few days, Dalit community leaders have participated in protests, and activists and citizens have used social media to express their anger.
Some have already called it a caste crime because the accused priest is reported to be a brahmin of the upper caste.
Rape and sexual violence have been in the limelight in India since a young woman on a bus in Delhi was gang-raped and killed in 2012.
The attack saw several days of protests and forced changes in national rape law, but there were no signs that crimes against women and girls would ease.
According to recent crime statistics, one in four rape victims is a child in India. In the overwhelming number of rape cases, the victim knows the perpetrator.
In Tarun Tejpal acquittal, the judge questions ‘appropriate’ behavior for rape victims
Is there a proper way for rape victims to act?
That’s the question many ask in India after a judge has thrown accusations against a man accused of raping a female colleague and questioned the suspect’s behavior.
Judge Kusama Joshi wrote in a photo taken shortly after the alleged assault that the young woman was “smiling, normal, and feeling good.”
In a decision on page 527, the judge said, “Even if she had just claimed to have been sexually assaulted, she seemed to be disturbed, discreet, frightened, and traumatized. I didn’t see it. ”
The charges against Tarun Tejpal, a prominent former editor of Tehelka magazine, have been dismissed. The Goa government, which appealed the decision, said Thursday that “we owe it to our girls” and that the acquittal was “legal error” and “unsustainable.” A judge in the High Court agreed and said he would hear the case on June 2.