Indian police said Thursday they were investigating a spate of rapes and hangings in a troubled northern region, as the national women’s rights body called for the state government to resign over the crisis.
India has sought to improve its reputation over violence against women, but public outrage was reignited by the deaths last month of two girls, aged 12 and 14, who were gang-raped and lynched in their impoverished village in Uttar Pradesh.
On Thursday a woman said she had been gang-raped by four officers at a police station in the state, and police said they were also investigating the death of a 19-year-old found, like the two girls, hanging from a tree.
“The body was strung up using the girl’s dupatta (long scarf),” senior police superintendent Ashutosh Kumar said, adding the incident occurred in a village in Moradabad district.
“The FIR (first information report) was lodged by the girl’s brother against unidentified persons. He has alleged the girl was murdered,” Kumar told AFP.
The case is the latest in a series of attacks in Uttar Pradesh whose chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is under mounting political pressure to resign for his handling of law and order.
Mamata Sharma, head of the state-run National Commission for Women, urged Yadav to resign, calling his government’s failure to protect women “shameful”.
“They (the government) not only fails in protecting their women but they don’t even have the police in their control,” Sharma told NDTV.
But Yadav, speaking on a visit to New Delhi, insisted that the situation was no worse than elsewhere in the country.
“Law and order is an important issue for any state. The government is working to maintain law and order,” he said.
“In UP, the environment is good and the law and order situation is better than several other states.”
The rising number of attacks in the northern state sparked a protest in New Delhi, with women’s rights activists demanding Yadav’s government take “strong action against culprits”.
“We want Akhilesh Yadav to act now. At the same time there should be no irresponsible, pathetic comments from leaders as well as the police,” said Shobha Ojha, president of the All India Mahila (Women’s) Congress.
– Failure of new laws –
India last year brought in tougher laws against sexual offenders after the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012, an attack that drew international condemnation of India’s treatment of women.
But the legislation, which was also designed to educate and sensitise police on rape cases, has failed to stem the tide of violence.
In southwest Uttar Pradesh, the woman who alleged she was gang-raped by four officers at a police station said the attack occurred as she was trying to seek her husband’s release.
“At 11:30pm when there was no one in the room the sub-inspector took me to his room and raped me inside the police station,” the woman, who cannot be named, told the CNN-IBN channel.
The woman filed a complaint against the sub-inspector and three other officers, alleging she was attacked in Hamirpur district when she refused to pay them a bribe, police said.
Although police said they were investigating, they cast doubt on her allegations, saying at least one of the officers was away from the station at the time.
District Inspector General Amitabh Yash also said a report of her medical examination showed the woman suffered no injuries, the Press Trust of India reported.
A 45-year-old woman was also found hanging from a tree in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday with her family claiming she had been raped and murdered.
Her husband said she was singled out for attack as she returned home in Bahraich district as punishment for trying to halt the sale of alcohol in her area.
“We have detained four of the five men accused and are interrogating them,” district superintendent Happy Guptan told AFP on Thursday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday urged all politicians to work together to protect women, in his first comments on the issue since the hanging of the girls sparked public outrage.
Modi warned politicians against “politicising rape”, saying they were “playing with the dignity of women” in his first speech to parliament since sweeping to power at last month’s national elections.
The appeal came ahead of a scheduled meeting between chief minister Yadav and Modi in Delhi.
Uttar Pradesh, with a population of some 200 million, has a history of communal clashes and violence. The state recorded 23,569 crimes against women in 2012, the third highest in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.