The head of the Indian state where a brutal gang-rape and murder of two teenage cousins occurred mocked journalists on Friday for their concerns over the case, asking them “Aren’t you safe? You’re not facing any danger, are you?”
The two victims, one fourteen years-old and the other fifteen, were found dead, hanging from a mango tree early Wednesday morning. Reports from the scene indicate that the residents of Katra village waited near the girls’ bodies as time passed and the police did nothing. “Hundreds of angry villagers stayed next to the tree throughout Wednesday, silently protesting the police response,” the Associated Press reports. “Indian TV footage showed the villagers sitting under the girls’ bodies as they swung in the wind, and preventing authorities from taking them down until the suspects were arrested.”
Hours passed before the police arrived, despite being warned when the girls first were discovered to be missing, spurring anger throughout India. But it seems the head of the state where the rape occurred is less than open to questions about the attack. “Aren’t you safe? You’re not facing any danger, are you?” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, asked members of the press according to the Associated Press. “Then why are you worried? What’s it to you?”
The Press Trust of India reports a slightly different version of the exchange, with Yadav telling a reporter questioning him about the case, “I hope you have not faced any danger.” According to PTI, when the journalist said, “No”, Yadav said, “Thank you. You should propagate this.”
Yadav’s comments came on the same day his government fired two police officers for failing to act on the Katra villagers’ pleas, after the two were suspended on Thursday. More distressingly, however, elsewhere in the state police arrested three men for brutally attacking the mother of a rape victim. In this case, “five men — including the father, a brother and a cousin of the man accused in the rape — followed the victim’s mother away from her house and beat her relentlessly on Monday,” after her daughter refused to withdraw her complaint to the police. Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India, home to nearly two hundred million people.
The attack on the girls in the mango grove is the latest resurgence of India’s rape culture and the outrage it produces into the headlines. In January, a woman was hospitalized after her village’s elders condemned her to be gang-raped for marrying a Muslim man. Earlier that month, women took to the streets to protest after a 16 year-old was burned to death, allegedly to punish her for going to the police to report her rape. And in 2012, a young woman’s rape and subsequent death drew thousands of protesters to the street demanding the government take further action to prevent rape and punish rapists.
A report from a United Nations-affiliated group released in 2012 indicated that in India “every 60 minutes two women are raped, and every six hours a young married woman is found beaten to death, burnt or driven to suicide.” The problem is far worse for members of the Dalit group — the lowest place in the Indian caste system, and the caste of the two girls in Katra — as they face a particular stigma and are the subject of a disproportionate amount of violence. “Violence against Dalit women is targeted, 361 and atrocities committed against them include: verbal abuse and sexual epithets, naked parading, pulling out of teeth, tongue and nails, and violence, including murder,” the report read.