Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a police station on the outskirts of the Indian city of Hyderabad, demanding the four men accused of raping and murdering a 27-year-old woman be handed over to them.
Some protesters clashed with police on Saturday, hurling shoes after the charred body of the woman, a veterinarian, was found in the town of Shadnagar, about 50km (31 miles) from Hyderabad, on Thursday.
Police said medical evidence would be hard to obtain given the state of the body but they were working on the assumption the victim had been raped.
The four accused, who have been remanded in judicial custody for 14 days, are expected to undergo a “fast-track” trial as demanded by many protesters and politicians.
Police said the vet, who cannot be named, was allegedly abducted on Wednesday night after she left her scooter near an expressway toll booth.
The four men are alleged to have deflated a tyre while she was away and offered to help when she returned to collect it.
The victim called her younger sister to say she was stranded and that a group of men had offered to fix her motorcycle.
The woman said she was “afraid”, according to her sister’s testimony to police. The sister called back later but the victim’s phone was switched off.
Police said the ashes of the woman’s body were found on Thursday morning. The body had been wrapped in a blanket and doused with kerosene.
Reminiscent of 2012 incident
The killing sparked fresh outrage in a country that has been in the international spotlight over the handling of sexual assaults by the authorities since the brutal gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in the national capital, New Delhi, in 2012.
The victim’s mother demanded that the culprits be burned alive, the Times of India newspaper quoted her as saying, while the hashtag #HangRapists trended on the Indian social media.
In New Delhi on Saturday, a woman, who tried to stage a one-person demonstration outside the Indian parliament, said she was beaten by the police after she refused to go home.
“The only purpose of this protest is to ensure that I am not burned to death tomorrow,” she told reporters later, fighting back tears.
“Every 20 minutes, there is a rape in India. I don’t want to die.”
In a separate protest in New Delhi, about 30 people, including college students, rallied outside a police station, carrying placards demanding justice.
“If your blood doesn’t boil even now, it’s not blood but water,” they chanted.
According to government figures, more than 32,000 rape cases were reported in 2017. Experts, however, say the crime is vastly unreported.
‘Government not doing enough’
India’s National Commission for Women, which advises the government on policy regarding women’s rights, condemned the incident, saying it “won’t leave any stone unturned till these perpetrators get the punishment they deserve”.
But feminists and activists in India say the government has failed in checking the crimes against women.
“The fact that our governments are not doing enough to make streets well lit and safer for women to be out in big numbers, that is the problem. That our police encourages victim-blaming, that is the problem,” Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association told Al Jazeera from New Delhi.
Krishnan said India needs a “more women-friendly atmosphere where they do not feel judged for being out in public spaces” and demanded a “more gender-sensitive response” from the public institutions, mainly the police and the judiciary.
“[The] judiciary is interested in regulating women’s sexuality and judging them rather than offering them justice,” she said.
Women’s groups also turned against a minister in Telangana state, which includes Hyderabad, who said the dead woman could have been saved if she had called the police first instead of her sister.
“Is there no shame?” hit back Swati Maliwal, the head of the Delhi Women’s Commission. “Now the blame is being put on the dead victim.”