Many political leaders and women’s rights activists in India have come together to demand justice for a Muslim woman, who was allegedly burned to death by a Hindu man and his friends in Vaishali district in the eastern province of Bihar.
Gulnaz Khatoon, 20, was burned after the accused poured kerosene over her in Rasoolpur village on October 30. She succumbed to her burns on Sunday.
The woman’s family alleges the police delayed in taking action against the accused, who were identified as Satish Kumar Rai, Chandan, and Vinod Rai.
Khatoon was brought to the local hospital with 75 percent burn injuries. She was later moved to Patna Medical College Hospital, the largest hospital in the province, where she died.
She was engaged to another man and the marriage ceremony was scheduled to be held in four months, her family said.
Satish Kumar Rai had been harassing Gulnaz to marry him, the victim’s family said, adding that the woman refused to enter into an interfaith marriage with Rai. Enraged at her refusal, Rai and his friends killed her, the family said.
20-year-old Gulnaz was burnt alive because she resisted harassment. The news didn’t cover it, because her religion, and that of her murderers, didn’t fit the narrative being fed to us. Instead, we criminalise inter-faith marriages. #JusticeForGulnaz – justice, if there is any.
— Hiba Bég (@HibaBeg) November 18, 2020
Media reports said Gulnaz was burned when she went out to take out the rubbish.
Video statement of the victim
According to the video statement of the victim before her death, she was caught by three men, all residents of Rasoolpur village and they started molesting her.
When she resisted and threatened to tell her mother about their misconduct, the angry men poured kerosene on her.
The statement names Rai specifically, who poured the kerosene and set her on fire.
Vaishali District Superintendent of Police (SP) Gaurav Mangla said the accused persons were on the run and three police teams have been formed to arrest them.
“Investigations in the case were in progress and the accused people would be arrested very soon,” said Mangla.
The chief of the local police station has been suspended for negligence in the case.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Khatoon’s younger sister Gulshan Parveen said the killers fled the scene as soon as villagers gathered after hearing her screams.
Muslim girl in Bihar in #India was burnt alive and thrown into a well by right wing Hindu extremists
Victims family dmnding justice but no one listening to them even after 2wks
India is becoming positively unsafe for religious minorities#JusticeForGulnaz#indiadeservesblacklist pic.twitter.com/Mq1xBjC0hm
— RaNa BilaL (@AB18PK) November 17, 2020
“The accused persons had been stalking and sexually harassing my sister for the last three-four months and pressurising her to marry Satish Rai. They killed her because she refused,” she said.
Family staged a demonstration
The victim’s father, Mukhtar, died in 2017. The family of five sisters and four brothers survived on the wages of mother Shaimuna Khatoon and brother Istkar Ahmed. They work in the state capital Patna where the mother stitches and son sells clothes.
The victim’s family had complained to the parents of the accused about the harassment. But they allegedly did nothing.
“After her marriage was fixed, Satish Rai started harassing her even more and pressurized her to marry him. However, she told him that she cannot marry him. Enraged over her refusal, he threatened to kill her,” said the victim’s brother Istkar.
Several videos of Khatoon have gone viral, where she is pinpointing the accused and describing the incident in detail.
There was also an appeal on Facebook seeking help to treat her.
After Khatoon’s death on Sunday, her family staged a demonstration at a city square to call for punishment.
“We want Justice. It has been 17 days but there has hardly been any progress. We complained but it was not considered. We are powerless, we have no one to help us,” Shaimuna Khatoon, mother of the victim, told Anadolu Agency.
Many women’s rights organisations have demanded immediate arrest of the accused and compensation of two million rupees ($27,000) and a government job to the victim’s family, besides conducting a fair investigation and trial in a fast track court.
#JusticeForGulnaz trended on Twitter on Monday as people expressed anguish at the delay in the registering of the case against the perpetrators.
Taking to Twitter, leader of India’s main opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi attacked the government and attributed it to misrule and a false notion of good governance.
Sharing the newspaper report, Gandhi wrote: “Whose crime is more dangerous. Those who carried out this inhuman act? Or those who hid it for electoral gains to lay the foundation of his false good governance on this misrule?”
Asaduddin Owaisi, a prominent Muslim leader, called for action against the accused.
“Unbelievable cruelty. Prayers for victim & her family. These men ‘punished’ her for resisting molestation. It’s been 15 DAYS & there’s still no action. Men like Satish are emboldened by the fact that there’s never any action. @NitishKumar where’s your “tough on crime” policy now?” he tweeted, tagging the state Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Kumar took over as chief minister this week for the fourth consecutive term after his Janata Dal United party won the regional elections in alliance with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).