Out­rage in In­dia

Case is lat­est to pro­voke out­rage over sex­ual vi­o­lence in coun­try

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOANNA SLATER [email protected]­post.com B. Kartheek in Hy­der­abad and Ta­nia Dutta in New Delhi con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The bru­tal gang rape and killing of a vet­eri­nar­ian on her way home has “brought shame to the en­tire coun­try.”

NEW DELHI — It was around 9 p.m. when the young woman re­turned to the toll plaza where she had parked her red scooter. It had a flat tire, and a group of men of­fered to help.

Then they grabbed her, po­lice said, took turns rap­ing her and then smoth­ered her to death. They tried burn­ing the ev­i­dence of the crime: Her charred body was found the next morn­ing, iden­ti­fied by her ele­phant-shaped locket and a white scarf nearby.

The killing of the 26-year-old vet­eri­nar­ian in the South In­dian city of Hy­der­abad last week has pro­voked out­rage and an­guish across In­dia, the lat­est in a se­ries of grue­some, high-pro­file crimes against women and girls. Po­lice ar­rested four men and said they had con­fessed to the killing.

Speak­ing in Par­lia­ment on Mon­day, In­dia’s de­fense min­is­ter called it an “in­hu­man” crime that has “brought shame to the en­tire coun­try.”

The vet­eri­nar­ian’s killing re­called the bru­tal rape and mur­der in 2012 of an­other young woman who was at­tacked af­ter board­ing a pri­vate bus on her way home from a movie. Her death prompted mass protests and ush­ered in a flurry of mea­sures aimed at com­bat­ing such crimes — harsher sen­tences, fast­track courts and a govern­ment fund ded­i­cated to women’s safety.

The ag­o­nized com­men­tary in the wake of the Hy­der­abad case re­flects the fear that these mea­sures are not enough. M. Venka­iah Naidu, In­dia’s vice pres­i­dent, called on Mon­day for fur­ther changes to the coun­try’s laws and ju­di­cial system.

Do not make the “mistake of at­tribut­ing [it] to one state or one city,” he said. “It is a so­ci­etal weak­ness, a so­ci­etal dis­ease. It is sort of a la­cuna in our sys­tems, both le­gal as well as po­lice sys­tems.”

Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent na­tional crime sta­tis­tics, about 33,000 rapes were re­ported in In­dia in 2017, mark­ing a de­crease from the prior two years (about 100,000 rapes were re­ported in the United States in 2017). Ad­vo­cates say that In­dia’s of­fi­cial fig­ures un­der­state the scope of the prob­lem, with the vast ma­jor­ity of vic­tims still un­likely to ap­proach au­thor­i­ties.

Vic­tims who do re­port rapes face a long and un­cer­tain le­gal process. “It takes a par­tic­u­larly dogged sur­vivor of sex­ual as­sault — almost an ac­tivist — to stay the course,” said Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court lawyer. About 25 per­cent of such cases re­sult in con­vic­tion, she said, a higher rate than in Bri­tain or South Africa.

Af­ter news of the vet­eri­nar­ian’s killing spread, demon­stra­tions erupted in Hy­der­abad over the week­end. Thou­sands of peo­ple protested at a po­lice station near where the woman’s body was found and out­side the gated com­pound where her fam­ily lives. In New Delhi, a young woman was ar­rested for hold­ing a sign in a high-se­cu­rity area out­side Par­lia­ment that read, “Why can’t I feel safe in my own In­dia?”

As out­rage swelled, au­thor­i­ties promised swift and force­ful jus­tice. But in the hours af­ter the vic­tim dis­ap­peared, the ini­tial re­ac­tion was in­dif­fer­ence. Her fam­ily went to the lo­cal po­lice station to seek help but the of­fi­cers did not in­form their su­pe­ri­ors or re­port the in­ci­dent to a cen­tral­ized con­trol room, said Prakash Reddy, a deputy com­mis­sioner of po­lice. Three po­lice of­fi­cers from the station were sub­se­quently sus­pended.

While govern­ment of­fi­cials ex­pressed horror at the crime, they also made com­ments that blamed the vic­tim. A se­nior politi­cian said that the woman would have been saved had she called the po­lice emer­gency line, rather than her sis­ter, upon re­al­iz­ing that she had a flat tire. The chief min­is­ter of the state of Te­lan­gana, where Hy­der­abad is lo­cated, used the in­ci­dent to ar­gue that some fe­male state em­ploy­ees should not work af­ter dark.

The po­lice quickly ar­rested four men in their 20s in con­nec­tion with the crime. Two of the al­leged per­pe­tra­tors worked haul­ing truck­loads of bricks and other cargo, a po­lice doc­u­ment said, and they had parked their ve­hi­cle at a busy toll plaza near Hy­der­abad’s air­port.

Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, the four men had been drinking whiskey on Nov. 27 when the young woman parked her scooter nearby and went to a der­ma­tol­ogy ap­point­ment. While she was gone, they de­flated her tire and made a plan to as­sault her. When she came back, they of­fered to take her scooter to get the tire re­filled. She made one call be­fore they re­turned — to her younger sis­ter — and said that she was afraid.

At­tempts to iden­tify lawyers for the four sus­pects were un­suc­cess­ful and it is un­clear whether they have le­gal coun­sel. One lo­cal bar as­so­ci­a­tion said that its mem­bers had passed a res­o­lu­tion not to rep­re­sent the ac­cused in the case, cit­ing a “moral re­spon­si­bil­ity to give sup­port to the fam­ily of the vic­tim.”

The Wash­ing­ton Post is with­hold­ing the iden­tity of the woman be­cause In­dian courts have ruled that the names of vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment should not be pub­licly dis­closed. How­ever, her name has been widely cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia and by some news out­lets.

The vic­tim’s younger sis­ter, Bhavya, was the last rel­a­tive she spoke to be­fore she was killed. Bhavya said that re­call­ing her sis­ter’s last words made her weep and that she hoped no one else would ex­pe­ri­ence such sor­row. On Mon­day, the fam­ily went to a river to scat­ter the woman’s re­mains.

A VIGIL FOR THE VIC­TIM IN HY­DER­ABAD, IN­DIA; VINOD BABU/REUTERS

VINOD BABU/REUTERS

DIVYAKANT SOLANKI/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUT­TER­STOCK

TOP: Peo­ple shout slo­gans Mon­day to protest the rape and killing of a 26-year-old vet­eri­nar­ian in Hy­der­abad, In­dia. Thou­sands gath­ered at a po­lice station near where the woman’s body was found and out­side the gated com­pound where her fam­ily lives. ABOVE: Pro­test­ers hold signs dur­ing a demon­stra­tion in Mum­bai. Af­ter news of the killing spread, peo­ple in In­dia took to the streets.

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