Indian police have filed murder charges against two individuals who allegedly set a 16-year-old girl on fire on December 23, after the victim succumbed to her injuries and passed away on New Years Eve. The two suspects are closely connected to the people accused of gang-raping the 16-year-old, who was pregnant at the time of her death, and may have burned her alive in order to punish her for going to the police.
Before the teen girl passed away, she identified her attackers as close friends of the two people who raped her this past October, a local policeman confirmed to news outlets. “The accused tried to kill my daughter by setting her on fire to hush up their crimes,” the victim’s father told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The murder has sparked protests in Calcutta, where hundreds of people rallied on Wednesday. India recently marked the one-year anniversary of another gang rape that resulted in the victim’s death, and the public outcry against rape culture has intensified in the time since that crime occurred.
The deceased 16-year-old was allegedly gang raped twice in the fall. In October, she was assaulted by a group of more than six men near her family’s home near Calcutta. The next day, she reported the attack at a local police station, and was raped again on her way home from the station. Both assaults left her unconscious. Her family ended up moving to a different town, but say they were still harassed and pressured to withdraw their police report. Meanwhile, the police were slow to take the report seriously, and speculated that the victim may have been a prostitute.
Spurred by her death, local police officers reported that they had finally made arrests on Wednesday — two months after the girl first reported the crime. Doctors confirmed that the girl was pregnant when she died, although they don’t yet know how far along the pregnancy was.
The pressure to effectively crack down on sexual assault has intensified over the past year, and Indian lawmakers did recently strengthen some of the legal penalties for rape. But sexual assault prevention advocates argue that hasn’t done much to change the culture of victim-blaming, harassment, and gender-based violence throughout the nation. Indeed, despite the massive outcry following the high-profile gang rape last December, there have been countless reports of similar horrific crimes since then. As the ranks of the protesters have swelled, police officers in some areas of the country have begun arresting them.
Although rape cases in India often make international headlines, it’s hardly the only place struggling with these issues. A recent UN report on sexual violence — one of the largest international surveys on the topic to date — found that as many as one in four men in some part of the world have committed rape. Those men typically go unpunished. According to the UN study, less than a quarter of the respondents who admitted to committing rape had ever served jail time for their crime. Here in the United States, it’s estimated that just three percent of rapists ever see the inside of a jail cell — and the victims who come forward are often subjected to some of the same kind of harassment and intimidation evident in India.