26th August, 2021
The death of a 24-year-old Indian woman, who had set herself on fire last week after alleging harassment by police and judiciary at the behest of an MP she had accused of rape, has once again put the spotlight on the shameful treatment of women in India.
The woman and a male friend did a Facebook live on 16 August before sprinkling petrol on themselves and lighting the fire. They were taken to hospital with severe burns. The man died on Saturday. The woman succumbed on Tuesday evening.
Last November, his brother registered a police complaint accusing the woman of forgery. She had called the accusation “false” but earlier this month, a court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against her.
In the video recording of the Facebook live, the young woman is seen accusing the MP of using his influence to harass her.
She and her friend name several police officials and even a judge, accusing them of colluding with Mr Rai.
“We have reached the destination they wanted us at. They made efforts for the past year and a half to push us to this point,” she says.
“The authorities have been forcing us since November 2020 to die. We want all of you, the citizens of Uttar Pradesh and the country, to hear this,” her friend says.
“The step we are going to take is painful and frightening. We are also a little scared, but this fear is meaningless,” he adds, minutes before they self-immolate.
Watching the video is hard – there are times when her voice breaks or he chokes and their desperation is heartbreaking.
Rape and sexual crimes have been in the spotlight in India since December 2012 when a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped by six men on a bus in Delhi. She died a few days later from her injuries.
The incident led to global outrage and forced India to introduce tough new laws to deal with crimes of sexual nature. Five men were given the death penalty and four of them were executed last year.
But despite the increased scrutiny, there has been no let up in the number of sexual crimes against women. In 2018, police recorded 33,977 cases of rape in India – that’s an average of a rape every 15 minutes. Campaigners say the actual numbers are much higher as many are not even reported.