Gangsters who twice raped a 16-year-old girl and threatened to kill her father unless she dropped the charges had ’political patronage,’ says veteran women’s rights campaigner
The mother of the rape victim cries as she places flowers on the coffin in Calcutta Photo: EPA/PIYAL ADHIKARY
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
THE TELEGRAP, 2:22PM GMT 01 Jan 2014
There were angry demonstrations in Calcutta on Wednesday following the death of a 16-year-old girl who set herself on fire after suffering two gang-rapes and a campaign of intimidation to force her to drop charges against her assailants.
One of India’s leading women’s rights campaigners, Brinda Karat, a veteran former member of parliament and Communist Party leader, said the local government and police had shielded the alleged perpetrators who were linked to West Bengal’s ruling party, the Trinamool Congress.
Ms Karat had never heard of a victim being gang-raped twice and said the case showed little had been done to protect sexual assault victims since the gang rape and murder of a Delhi student provoked outrage throughout India one year ago.
The anger of the victim’s family and women’s rights campaigners was compounded when local police officers tried to cremate her body earlier on Wednesday without the family’s permission.
The victim had died from multiple organ failure on New Year’s Eve, eight days after she was found on fire. Doctors said she had suffered burns to 40 per cent of her body, with more severe damage to her face and throat which left her with severe breathing problems.
The girl was first attacked in October in Madhyamgram, near Calcutta, by six men who gang-raped her again the following day as she returned from reporting the assault at a police station with her father.
The men were arrested for the rapes but the victim and her family continued to receive threats from their associates, including a final warning that her father, a taxi driver, would be killed if she did not withdraw the complaint.
The family’s landlord, who is believed to be related to one of the accused, ordered the family to vacate their one room home. On the morning of the suicide attempt two associates of the accused arrived at their home and threatened and verbally abused the victim.
Campaigner Brinda Karat said the two gang rapes, the persecution of the victim and her subsequent suicide reflected the “criminalisation of politics” in West Bengal where party leaders rely on gangsters to deliver votes.
“This gang raped her twice, she went to the police, and they had the temerity to go to her house and threaten her. Clearly they have political patronage, otherwise it is impossible for that to happen. In all my experience I have never seen a case where a girl has been gang-raped twice.
“What is so tragic is that her life could have been saved if the government and ordinary processes of law had worked — they would not have delayed bringing justice and protection for the victim,” she said.
Ms Karat, who had been a leading campaigner for tougher laws and fast-track trials in rape cases, said she was saddened that the new year had begun - like 2013 - with the death of a young woman following a gang-rape.
“It’s a year since this terrible case in Delhi outraged the country and forced the government to make public commitments about preventative, protective and legal measures to punish [perpetrators] when these cases occur. But this case shows there is protection for the criminals. Her life could have been saved,” she said.