India: 3 Men Questioned For Rape, Killing of Dalit Woman

Vasudevan Sridharan
Bengaluru, India
160503-IN-dalit-death-620.jpg Protesters demand speedy action against the unknown perpetrator who raped and killed a Dalit woman in Kochi last week, May 3, 2016.

Police in the south Indian state of Kerala said Tuesday they were questioning three suspects in connection with last week’s gruesome rape and killing of a woman from a lower caste that sparked nationwide outrage.

Police Superintendent Yathish Chandra told BenarNews that his investigating team had “reason to believe that only one man, between the age group of 25 and 30, was involved in the assault” of the Dalit victim, a 30-year-old student at the Government Law College in Ernakulam district. Her name was withheld.

“The victim’s neighbors saw one person leaving her house minutes before her body was discovered by her mother,” Chandra said.

The body of the victim, who belonged to a community placed at the bottom of Hinduism’s hierarchical caste system, bore more than 30 stab wounds, police said. And, in a grisly reminder of the 2012 gang rape and murder of a paramedic student aboard a bus in New Delhi that caused a national uproar, the Dalit woman’s intestines had been gutted, police said.

“It is a gruesome murder,” Chandra said of the assault, which took place last Thursday while the victim was alone in her house in Ernakulam district’s Perumbavoor town.

While refusing to confirm if one of those detained was the prime suspect, Chandra said: “We are working on the case. More details can be revealed only when we are done with the interrogation of the three suspects, one of whom is the victim’s neighbor.”

Even as police were investigating the incident, hundreds of activists belonging to women’s groups and right-wing organizations protested outside Kerala state assembly building Tuesday, demanding speedy action against the perpetrators.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said the incident had again raised questions on the safety of Dalit women in the country.

“It is a ghastly reminder of how vulnerable women, especially Dalit women, continue to be to sexual violence. Perpetators still continue to enjoy a sense of impunity,” she told BenarNews.

Rights body calls for report

On Tuesday, India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) demanded a detailed report of the incident within two weeks.

“The crime is so spine-chilling and gruesome that words fall short and expressing anguish and shock appear meaningless and mere ritualistic,” the NHRC said in a statement. “It is a matter of utmost concern that women’s security is facing grave threat in spite of several measures taken in the recent times.”

About 63 of every 100,000 women are raped on average every year in Kerala, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The figure is significantly higher than the national average of 56.3 rapes per 100,000 women. About 93 women are sexually assaulted each day in India.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who is preparing for state assembly elections, said his government would spare no effort in bringing the culprit to justice.

“[We are] shocked by the brutal murder of a young woman. The culprits will be brought to book and the severest punishment will be ensured to them,” Chandy told reporters.

G. Shankar, a professor at the Government Law College who briefly taught the victim, said she was an “introvert who always kept to herself.”

“She never really opened up,” he told BenarNews. “She didn’t have many friends and always stayed aloof.”

Dalit community faces violence

The historically marginalized Dalit community, which forms the lowest rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy, continues to be subject to violent attacks.

In March, a 22-year-old engineering student from south India’s Tamil Nadu state was attacked and killed by three machete-wielding men while out shopping with his wife. She was critically injured in the assault, which was caught on closed-circuit cameras, as dozens of onlookers stood by.

Police said they were investigating the attack as a “likely incident of honor killing,” in which couples are targeted because their families disapprove of their relationships over caste or religion.


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