The suicide of a 24-year-old Indian woman, who set herself on fire last week after alleged police and judiciary harassment at the request of an MP she accused of rape, has once again brought attention to India’s deplorable treatment of women.
On August 16, the woman and a male companion went live on Facebook before dousing themselves in gasoline and setting fire to themselves. With severe burns, they were sent to the hospital. On Saturday, the man passed away. On Tuesday evening, the woman died.
The two had traveled from Uttar Pradesh, in the north, to Delhi, the capital. Their desperate attempt to draw attention to their suffering outside India’s Supreme Court has astonished the country.
In May 2019, the woman accused Atul Rai, a regional Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP, of rapping her at his residence in Varanasi, and filed a police complaint against him.
Mr Rai, who denies the charges, was caught a month later and has spent the last two years in prison.
His brother filed a police report accusing the woman of forgery in November. Despite her claims that the allegations were “false,” a court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against her earlier this month.
The young woman is seen accusing the MP of using his power to harass her in a video footage of the Facebook live.
She and her friend accuse multiple police officers, including a judge, of working with Mr Rai.
“We’ve arrived at the location where they wanted us to be. They worked hard for the past year and a half to get us here,” she says.
“Since November 2020, the government have been forcing us to die. Her buddy continues, “We want all of you, the inhabitants of Uttar Pradesh and the country, to hear this.”
“The next step we’re going to take is both unpleasant and terrifying. Minutes before they self-immolate, he adds, “We are also a little terrified, but this emotion is worthless.” Officials from the state said two officers had been suspended and that the event was being investigated.
It’s difficult to watch the video because her voice breaks or he chokes, and their desperation is sad.
Since December 2012, when a 23-year-old woman was gang-raped by six men on a bus in Delhi, rape and sexual crimes have been in the forefront in India. Her injuries claimed her life a few days later.
The event sparked international anger, prompting India to enact severe new legislation to address sexual offenses. Last year, five men were sentenced to death and four of them were executed.
Despite the increasing monitoring, the number of sexual crimes against women has not decreased. In India, police recorded 33,977 rape crimes in 2018, about one rape every 15 minutes. According to campaigners, the true numbers are significantly higher because many aren’t even reported.
Activists claim that laws are not being implemented properly, especially when the accused are powerful persons with money or political power. As a result, many victims do not receive justice.
And nowhere is this more evident than in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states, with a population larger than that of Brazil. Sengar remained in the BJP for months after her allegation and continued to wield enormous power in the area. She said that cops conspired with him to arrest her father, who died in detention.
Her case was only moved out of Uttar Pradesh when she attempted to set herself on fire, and in 2019, a Delhi court found the former lawmaker guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.
A woman was set on fire while on her way to testify against her suspected assailants in another instance. She had 90 percent burns and died three days later in the hospital.
State officials were also chastised last year for their response to the alleged gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit (previously untouchable) woman by four upper-caste men.
After her family protested that officials had forcibly incinerated her remains without their consent, her story sparked worldwide anger.
Activists argue that if India is serious about ending sexual violence, abusers must be punished, no matter how powerful they are.
The 24-year-old lady’s tragic self-immolation is not the first time a woman from the state has had to take such severe measures to be taken seriously by the police after accusing a powerful guy of rape.
Another lady attempted suicide in 2018 when police failed to act on her rape charge against Kuldeep Sengar, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (BJP).