NEW DELHI — A 23-year-old woman in India was set on fire by five men, including her alleged rapists, while she was on her way to a court hearing for her rape case.
The woman had filed a case of rape against two men from her village in March and also accused one of the men of filming the crime. Both the woman and her alleged assailants are from Unnao, a district in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
At the time she was supposed to present herself for the court hearing, one of the men she had accused of rape was on the run from the police, and another was released on bail last week. Five men, including the two accused of rape, have been arrested in connection with today's assault, according to a statement by police.
An eyewitness to the incident told Indian news channel NDTV that the woman walked for nearly a thousand yards while she was still ablaze, looking for help. It was only when she reached a crowd of onlookers that one of them dialed the police for help.
Attending doctors told the Times of India that the woman, although conscious, is in a critical condition and is reported to have burns on 90% of her body. She will be shifted to a bigger hospital in New Delhi later today.
This incident is the latest in a relentless series of attacks on Indian women. Just last week in South India, police said a veterinarian was raped and burned to death by men who first deflated her tire, then offered to help her.
This is also the second instance in which women have been punished for speaking about rape in the district of Unnao.
In 2018, a 17-year-old girl tried to set herself on fire in Unnao after she accused a former member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party of assaulting her in 2017.
The teen has alleged that her father, who was in prison for a separate case, was beaten to death in judicial custody by the man who raped her, following her complaint.
Her family has since been moved out of Uttar Pradesh, as India's Central Bureau of Investigation claimed they are believed to be under the “highest level of threat.”
Following the latest series of assaults, several Indians have once more begun demanding extreme punishments for rape, including capital punishment and chemical castration, as they did after the brutal gang rape and murder in 2012 when a student was attacked on a bus in New Delhi.
However, there is little evidence that such measures have proved to be a deterrent against sexual violence elsewhere in the world — some have even argued that extreme punishments for rapists mean that women are more likely to be killed during rape, so they cannot testify against their attackers.
Either way, the deck appears to be stacked against Indian women who are sexually assaulted.
After 2012 laws were made more stringent, accounting for a wider range of abuse, and stricter punishments and guidelines for collecting and examining evidence in cases of rape were introduced.
However, in practice, India is still struggling with training its understaffed and overburdened police force and court services to handle cases of assault swiftly, sensitively and effectively.
By the end of 2016, when the country’s crime data was last released, over 133,000 rape cases were still backlogged.