Indians Demand Breakthrough in Dalit Woman’s Rape, Killing

Rohit Wadhwaney
2016.05.05
Jaipur, India
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160505-IN-dalit-follow-620.jpg Indian activists shout slogans as they are confronted by police during a protest outside Kerala House in New Delhi, following the rape and killing of a student in the southern Indian state of Kerala, May 4, 2016.
AFP

A week after a lower-caste woman was raped and killed in the Indian state of Kerala, police Thursday had yet to make an arrest in the case that has triggered national outrage in the streets and on social media.

“The police have failed to investigate the case properly. There was a deliberate attempt to cover up,” Thasni Banu, a Kerala-based social activist, said while addressing a rally organized in Kerala’s Kochi city to protest the police probe.

Referring to the Dalit victim’s mutilated body, she said, “Despite the evidence, the police [did] not show urgency.”

The body of the 30-year-old victim, a law student who belonged to a community considered the lowest rung of Hinduism’s caste hierarchy, was discovered in her house in Ernakulam district’s Perumbavoor town by her laborer-mother a week ago. The victim’s intestines had been gutted.

On Wednesday, the Kerala government announced compensation of 1 million rupees (U.S. $15,026) for the victim’s family.

Body bore bite marks

The post-mortem report, which was released Thursday, said her body had 38 injuries, of which less than 10 were stab wounds. She died of strangulation and internal injuries, the report said, adding that her body bore bite marks, which indicated sexual abuse.

Based on the report, the police filed an interim report in a local court confirming that the victim was raped. The police had initially only registered a case of murder.

Police in Kerala, one of four Indian states in the midst of assembly elections, are working overtime to solve the case, which has caused a public outcry owing to its similarities to the infamous gang rape and killing of a paramedic student in a moving bus in New Delhi four years ago, state police chief T.P. Senkumar told journalists.

“Some investigations take time. All aspects need to be probed. We can’t arrest someone based on suspicion,” Senkumar said, adding that his team was “under 24-hour duress,” including policing election-related processions.  Kerala goes to the polls on May 16.

The victim’s house was cordoned off only on Tuesday, five days after she was killed, local media reported.

But Senkumar challenged those allegations.

“Their [the media’s] belated reaction to the gruesome crime [does] not mean the police were doing nothing during the time the press realized the incident’s importance,” he said.

“The IG (Inspector General) was at the crime scene immediately after it came to light and initiated a scientific inquiry,” Senkumar said.

Taking a dig at the media, Senkumar said: “Such people seem to have vested interests in not seeing crimes solved.”

Police superintendent expects arrest soon

Ernakulam district’s Superintendent of Police Yathish Chandra said the investigation had entered its final stage.

“The culprit will be nabbed very soon,” Chandra told reporters.

On Tuesday, Chandra told BenarNews that only one person was involved in the crime.

The police have so far detained five people for questioning, one of whom has been let off, a source close to the investigation told BenarNews.

Among the four detainees are two migrant laborers who were working at a construction site near the crime scene, the source said.

“A blood-stained shoe, usually worn by construction workers, was recovered from near the victim’s house. That is why our focus went toward bricklayers working in the area. One of the workers we have picked up has scratch marks on his body,” the source said.

“The investigation is headed in the right direction,” he added.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, another Dalit woman, a 19-year-old nursing student, was allegedly gang raped by an auto-rickshaw driver and two of his friends in the seaside resort of Varkala in Kerala. All three accused were arrested Thursday.

The victim, who knew the auto-rickshaw driver, was in his vehicle. Two of his friends got into the vehicle later and they allegedly went to a deserted spot and raped the girl, according to the victim’s statement.

Social media campaign launched

Even as investigators scramble for evidence in the case, which has garnered national attention, a social media campaign under the hashtag JusticeForJ*^*ha is echoing across the country, with demands of speedy justice for the victim.

In India, it is illegal to identify the victim of a sex crime, even by her first name.

Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty, a Keralite, while supporting an online campaign that calls for a boycott of the upcoming elections until the culprits are nabbed, said on twitter: “Guys and Gals be firm about this, don’t let down #J*^*ha. Kerala is not Delhi, we have to be assertive.”

“Every Indian man should fight for this young woman. Tomorrow it could be your sister or daughter. No more Nirbhayas,” senior television journalist Zakka Jacob tweeted, while referring to the 2012 New Delhi gang rape victim, whose name was coined Nirbhaya, meaning fearless, by the Indian media.

But others were against the victim’s caste being linked with the crime.

“It was a WOMAN who was raped and killed. Not a Dalit,” tweeted Sudhir Kothari.

The victim’s family, however, insisted their caste was “possibly the reason” for the crime.

“Since the day we moved into that house 40 years ago, not a day has passed without the neighbors troubling us,” the victim’s sister, Deepa, told news channels at a local hospital, where her mother, Rajeshwari, has been recovering since discovering her eldest daughter’s body. “Not once, have we been invited to a neighbor’s house,” she added.

“On several occasions, men from the neighborhood made lewd and sexual passes at my sister. We even filed a police complaint. But the police only shooed us away.”

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