Indian police are investigating two new cases of possible gang rape, including one with parallels to the assault and murder of a student in New Delhi that sparked a sustained debate about the lack of safety for women.
In one of the latest incidents, a 29-year-old woman was attacked as she traveled alone on a bus operating illegally in the northern state of Punjab, police said. Seven men have been arrested for raping the woman on Jan. 11, police said. In a separate case a day later, a woman was found hanging from a tree half naked in Bihar state. Police suspect she was raped.
“It is a tragedy but at the same time I am not particularly surprised,” Manpreet Singh Badal, a former finance minister of Punjab, who has started his own political party, said in a phone interview today. “Until men fear the law then these types of crime are going to continue.”
The incidents will put further pressure on the government and police to crack down on sex crimes after nationwide protests that were triggered by the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in the national capital last month. The woman, who was picked up along with a friend after leaving a city cinema, died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital, leading to weeks of soul-searching around India.
In Punjab, the married woman was tricked onto the bus as she returned from a visit to her husband’s family, Raj Jeet Singh, senior superintendent for Gurdaspur district, said in a phone interview. As the driver ignored her pleas to be allowed off the bus, she was driven to a remote location and then raped throughout the night before being dumped near her village the next day, Singh said.
The case has similarities to the attack in New Delhi where a man and a woman boarded a bus without knowing it was plying illegally. In the brutal two-hour assault the woman was allegedly repeatedly raped by six people on a moving bus before the couple was thrown onto the roadside near New Delhi’s airport naked.
Five men charged with the woman’s murder and kidnapping appeared in court today and received a list of charges in Hindi, said Manohar Lal Sharma, one of the defense lawyers. The next hearing will be on Jan. 17, he said. A sixth person charged is appearing before a juvenile justice board as he’s believed to be under 18.
In Bihar, a 45-year-old mother of four children was found hanging from a tree in a mango orchard in Bhagalpur district, senior superintendent K.S. Anupam said by phone. The woman was hanging by her sari and there is evidence that she was sexually assaulted and that the attack was carried out by more than one person, she said.
Police are investigating why the woman, who was traveling from the state of West Bengal to New Delhi, got off the train between stations, Anupam said. There is the possibility that she thought she had arrived at her destination, she said.
The gang rape of the student in Delhi on Dec. 16 set off a charged debate about the safety of women in the world’s biggest democracy. A woman was raped every 22 minutes in India in 2011, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. There were 572 cases of rape reported in New Delhi that year, a 23 percent increase from 2008, the latest bureau data show. The rise may reflect a greater confidence in reporting assaults.
What has united the nation in collective outrage is the brutality of the crime, allegations by a male friend of the victim that it took police 45 minutes to respond to calls, and comments from politicians and religious figures that appear to blame women for inviting a growing number of sexual assaults.
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