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No Safe Space for Women Anywhere? Woman in India Set on Fire on Her Way to Court to Testify Against Her Rapists

An Indian woman was set on fire yesterday in India when she was on her way to a court hearing where she was to testify against the two men who had allegedly raped her. Five men were involved in the incident in the city of Unnao in Uttar Pradesh who dragged the woman to a field, doused her with kerosene and then set her alight.

The 23-year-old woman is currently in hospital in critical condition with 70% burns. One of her doctors has stated that she’s in a very serious condition. The medical superintendent of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Hospital said “She has 90 percent burn injuries and we are taking utmost care. A team of doctors are observing her”.

According to the police, the woman stated that two of the men involved in this attack were the same men that the victim had filed rape charges against in March of this year, while the other men included their fathers and a nephew. The rape allegedly happened in December of last year, in the Unnao district. The police also stated that the woman and one of the attackers had been in a relationship last year, when he had promised her marriage, exploited her physically, and raped her with another friend.

This time, the five men grabbed the victim near the railway station when she was on her way to the court in the town of Rae Bareli, where the rape happened. One of the men was out on bail while the other was on the run from the police. Senior police officer SK Bhagat said “The two men set fire to the 23-year-old to take revenge”. All five men are currently in custody on suspicion of attempted murder and criminal intimidation, but no official charges have been filed yet.

The handling of the case prompted a lot of criticism and people questioned why the alleged rapists had been let out on bail. An MP for India’s Nationalist Congress party tweeted that this would not have happened had it not been for the “complete state of lawlessness in the state of Uttar Pradesh”.

The incident comes after a series of brutal attacks the women of India have been facing, causing a wave of fear and outrage across the country. Just last week, a 26-year-old veterinary doctor was gang-raped in Hyderabad. In her case, the police believe that when the woman was on her way home last Wednesday, “four men deflated her tires and posed as good Samaritans to trick her, and then gang-raped and murdered her”. She was asphyxiated to death and her body was burned and dumped.

According to reports, the four men were arrested but on the night of the murder, according to her family, the police refused to take a missing person complaint and suggested to them instead that she had eloped. Three police officers were suspended once protests erupted throughout the country due to the case. Latest reports coming out from this case state that the “all four men have been shot dead in a struggle with the police”. As per the reports, the “police took them back to the scene of the crime, where they tried to attack the officers”.

Before this, media channels reported that “a member of parliament had called for the suspects to be publicly lynched, and there were concerns about whether they could get a fair trial amid national outrage”.

A few days after the Hyderabad incident, a teenager was allegedly gang-raped in Bihar and killed, and her body was set on fire as well. Even the Unnao district, where the most recent incident happened, was recently in the Indian headlines because of another sexual violence case where “police opened a murder investigation against a ruling party lawmaker in July after a woman who accused him of rape was seriously injured in a car crash”.

These cases are just some of many that make up the problem with sexual violence prevalent in India. India was ranked as the most dangerous country for women to live in the world by a poll conducted last year by Thomson Reuters Foundation. According to the latest government figures, police registered 33,658 rape cases in 2017 but the actual figures are likely to be much higher.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in India to protest against this violence and demand better protection for the women in the country. The government’s answer to the problem is unacceptable to many activists, who state that the death penalty for the rapists won’t solve the underlying social causes and misogynistic attitudes that contribute to the problem of violence against women.

These attitudes and views were clearly shown by Daniel Shravan, an Indian film director, when he posted on his social media regarding the Hyderabad case and said: “rape is not a serious thing, but murder is inexcusable”. He added that “the government should legalize rape without violence for the safety of women” and told the women that “if you are about to get raped, hand over a condom to the rapist and cooperate with him while he fulfils his sexual desire. That way he will not try to harm you”.

His posts have now been deleted but they attracted a lot of condemnation from the public. The account for the Indian #MeToo movement, #MeTooIndia, tweeted against his comments, stating that Shravan was “advocating rape as punishment for women”.

One thing is clear though, sexual violence and crimes against women are not just an Indian or Pakistani issue; it’s a universal problem that needs immediate attention. But till then, how many more women will have to suffer and lose their lives?

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