Police in India have arrested 12 people, including eight women and three minor boys, over alleged sexual assault and parading of a young woman in the streets of capital New Delhi.
Police on Tuesday told Al Jazeera the three minors are accused of sexually assaulting the woman, who is in her 20s, in a neighbourhood in the city’s east as India celebrated its Republic Day on January 26.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Police said the young woman was allegedly gang-raped, her hair chopped off by the women of the house where she was attacked and her face blackened.
A video of the attack, available on social media, shows the victim being brutally slapped and kicked by the women as others in the house clap and cheer. The attack continues for several minutes as the woman pleads for mercy, her body crouched and hands folded.
After the beating, she was dragged out of the house and paraded in the narrow lanes of the neighbourhood, with a garland of discarded slippers hung around her neck. Videos of the incident show a crowd of people watching the assault that took place right before the woman’s paternal house.
The police arrived and rescued the woman. “She is in a government shelter home. We are providing security to her family,” senior police official R Sathiyasundaram told Al Jazeera over the telephone.
Local media reports said the attack took place because the woman, mother of a three-year-old child, had repeatedly rejected the advances of a teenager who lived next to her parent’s house in the city’s Kasturba Nagar area.
The 16-year-old boy’s family claims he killed himself following the rejection in November last year. Reports said the teen’s death caused the purported “revenge attack”.
“The boy committed suicide in November last year and his family is now blaming the victim. They have alleged it was because of her that he took the extreme step. To exact revenge on her, they allegedly abducted her. They wanted to teach her a lesson,” several media reports quoted a senior police official as saying last week.
The woman’s sister, whose identity cannot be revealed for legal reasons, told a local news website the teen who died had “fallen in love” with the victim. “He used to keep calling and asking her to leave her husband and be with him. She would always refuse,” she told newslaundry.com.
She said her sister was abducted on the morning of January 26 by four men from outside her husband’s house in New Delhi’s Karkardooma area, a 10-minute drive from the teen’s home in Kasturba Nagar where she was brought and sexually assaulted and tortured.
The incident has caused outrage in India, considered a “dangerous place” for women.
Kavita Krishnan, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and a prominent feminist, said, “The stripping and parading, face-blackening are shameful practices of caste-based atrocities against persons of oppressed castes.”
“In the Kasturba Nagar incident, though both the accused and the victim are from the same community, the gender atrocity used the practices learned from caste atrocities. This is very much a gender atrocity where an entire neighbourhood thinks it is OK to lynch a woman because she did not reciprocate love for a man,” Krishnan told Al Jazeera.
Several other politicians, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and top Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, have condemned the incident and demanded justice.
Kejriwal said the incident was “very shameful” and urged the federal government which controls the Delhi Police to take strict action against the accused.
“How did the criminals get so much courage?” Kejriwal tweeted. “Delhiites will not tolerate such heinous crime and criminals at any cost.”
Gandhi on Monday posted on Twitter that the video of the alleged gang-rape victim being brutally beaten up “exposes a very disturbing face of our society”.
“The bitter truth is that many Indians don’t consider women to be human,” Gandhi tweeted. “This shameful fact needs to be acknowledged and called out.”
New Delhi, one of the most unsafe cities for women in India, is often dubbed by the media as the country’s “rape capital”.
The brutal gang rape of a student in a bus and her subsequent death caused by the injuries suffered during the assault in 2012 saw India’s criminal laws amended to allow for a death sentence in certain cases of rape.
Despite stringent laws now in place, not much has changed on the ground. In 2020, more than 28,000 cases of rape were reported across India, an average of 77 in a day, according to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
The NCRB data from September 2021 also showed that more than 370,000 cases of crimes against women were reported in the country in the previous year. Experts believe the real figures are much higher as many women do not report such cases due to fear or shame or both.
Legal scholar and feminist Flavia Agnes told Al Jazeera that stringent rape laws are not a deterrent against the crime.
“The more we make our laws, the violence is becoming more brutal and it fails to act as a deterrent. Sad state of affairs,” she said. “What we need is not stringent punishment but certainty of punishment and strong victim support.”