New Delhi, India – A rape survivor has been set on fire by five men in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, days after the brutal rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad city, according to police.
The unnamed woman was on her way to court in Rae Bareli for the hearing of her case when she was attacked by five men, allegedly including two men she had accused in a First Information Report (FIR) of raping her earlier this year.
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Police said the men poured petrol on her and set her ablaze in the early hours of Thursday in the Unnao district. When police reached the spot they found her in a severely burned condition. The accused men had already fled.
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“Around 4:40am, we received information about the attack on the woman. Police immediately rushed to the spot and took the victim to the hospital,” Unnao’s Superintendent of Police, Vikrant Vir, told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview.
“She (the victim) told police that five men including two men she had accused of rape earlier this year, tried to burn her. We have arrested all the accused persons and are investigating the case,” he said.
The woman, who reportedly suffered 80 percent burns on her body, has been referred to King George’s Medical University (KGMU) Hospital in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, where her condition is said to be critical.
‘Sad and shocking’
One of the accused rapists was arrested after the woman filed a case against him in March. He was released on bail last week.
“Rape survivor in Unnao with 80 percent burns is struggling for life. She had made two complaints against the threat of rape earlier yet we couldn’t protect her. Pathetic,” Majeed Memon, a Member of Parliament, wrote on Twitter.
“Extremely sad and shocked to hear that that Unnao rape victim was burned earlier this morning,” another Member of Parliament from Maharashtra, Supriya Sule, tweeted.
“The central government speaks about – ‘Beti Bachao – Beti Padhao’ [Save the daughter, educate the daughter], however, this seems to be a mere slogan if the daughters of our nation are not protected,” she added.
Anshu Awasthi, a spokesperson from the opposition Congress party expressed shock at the incident. “The state has been turned into a Jungle Raj [jungle rule] where nobody is safe and anything can happen to any one at any time,” he said, referring to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh told the police to ensure “maximum punishment” for the accused and said that it would fund the woman’s treatment.
‘Women not safe’
The incident in Unnao took place a week after a veterinarian was allegedly abducted by four men in Hyderabad in the southern state of Telangana. The men later allegedly raped and murdered her. Her body, according to police, was wrapped in a blanket and doused with kerosene.
The incident caused outrage across the country with people in many cities taking to the streets, demanding justice for the victim and safety for women.
India 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.
After the 2012 case, the country’s criminal law was amended to allow for the death penalty for rapists in rare cases.
Some members of parliament have also called for public lynchings of rape-accused, drawing criticism from activists, who have blamed the government for failing to check the crimes against women.
“Today, it happened in Unnao. Last week it happened in Hyderabad. Women are not safe anywhere,” said Nandani Rao, a women’s rights activist. “Such incidents are taking place all across India and we as a society react to only the ‘big cases’ that make the headlines.”
India’s grim record of sexual violence
More than 33,000 women were raped – an average of some 90 rapes reported each day – in India in 2017, according to the figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
But the real figure is believed to be far higher as many women in India do not report cases to police due to fear or shame.
The NCRB data also shows that more than 90 percent of cases of crimes against women were pending in courts across the country.
The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous, is notorious for its poor record regarding crimes against women, with more than 4,200 cases of rape – the highest number in the country – reported there in 2017.
Earlier this year, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh was widely criticised by opposition parties who accused it of protecting a party legislator charged with raping a 19-year-old woman in the same Unnao town.