As anti-rape protests have erupted over the past week in the Indian state of West Bengal, police arrested 13 members of a women’s rights group on Thursday. The protests were sparked by the gang rape and murder of a college student, and follow two other high-profile cases of rape in the state.
Anti-rape protests began last December and have been sustained since then. Protests have occurred across West Bengal and particularly in Kolkata, the state’s capital and the country’s third largest metropolitan area, and have been focused against the state government for not doing enough to crack down on violence against women. According to local media, residents’ concerns of insecurity for women have been routinely ignored by the government. In a sign of protest, many students stopped attending school or college and joined the demonstrations instead.
Thirteen of the protesters were arrested as they made their way towards the home of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, where they intended to give her a letter expressing concern over violence against women. They were stopped when they were still several hundred meters away from the Chief Minister’s home and detained for over eight hours. Police also cited the disruption of traffic as a reason for breaking up the protest.
“It is the beginning of our movement. We won’t give up so easily,” said Anuradha Kapoor, an activist in the civil rights group Maitree and one of those arrested. She told local newspaper Firstpost, “The state of women’s security in terrible. It has been like that for a long time now and we elected a new government for a reason. However, they are in complete denial of the situation and when you protest, this is what you get.”
On June 8, a 20-year-old college student’s body was found lying near a river near the outskirts of Kolkata after she had been gang-raped and murdered. The woman was on her way back home from taking an exam when she was apparently abducted, raped, and killed by a group of men. Six arrests have been made in connection to the incident. Three days later, a 14-year-old girl was raped and killed in the town of Gede, 90 miles away.
The state government has also come under fire after the National Crime Records Bureau released its annual report on crime statistics, pegging West Bengal as the state with the highest incidence of crimes against women, accounting for over 12 percent of the nation’s whole. Chief Minister Banerjee contested the Bureau’s statistics, a reaction which activists have called “callous,” and a reason for increased protests against Banerjee’s government.
Tourism in India has suffered in 2013 as multiple cases of rape have dominated headlines.