Suspected rape and murder of girl sparks protests in Indian capital

The nine-year-old girl was allegedly killed in a crematorium in south-west New Delhi, villagers claim.

A protester
A protester

Angry villagers have held a protest outside a crematorium in the Indian capital New Delhi where they say a nine-year-old girl was raped and murdered earlier this week.

The protesters, sitting on a makeshift stage, held placards demanding justice for the girl, who lived nearby.

The case has revived outrage over the number of gruesome crimes against women in India as well the treatment of those on the lowest rung of the country’s rigid caste system, which was part of the girl’s background.

Four men suspected of the crime, all workers at the crematorium, have been arrested but have yet to be charged, according to police officer Ingit Pratap Singh.

Protesters in India
A man tries to calm protesters down as they try to block a street outside a crematorium where the girl died (AP)

Police said the girl told her mother on Sunday that she was going to get water at a tap at the crematorium in south-west New Delhi.

About 30 minutes later, police said, the crematorium’s priest called the mother, who was told that her daughter had been electrocuted.

The mother was shown her daughter’s body, which the suspects then cremated without calling authorities, police said.

The mother said she saw her daughter’s body on the floor of the crematorium with bruises all over.

She said the priest and three other men at the crematorium told her not to call the police and threatened her.

Indian protest
The case has revived over the treatment of women and girls seen at the bottom of India’s caste system (AP)

Villagers said some of the girl’s remains were saved from the crematorium.

Mr Singh said the extent of the cremation meant a post-mortem examination was unable to establish whether the girl had been raped or how she was killed.

“The cause of death is inconclusive,” he said.

Police said forensic experts were testing her clothing for bodily fluids or other evidence.

The suspects are in police custody but under Indian law cannot be formally charged until the police investigation is complete.

The demonstration site
A woman stands on a road blocked by protesters at the demonstration site (AP)

Rape and sexual violence have been under the spotlight in India since the 2012 gang rape and killing of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus.

The attack sparked massive protests and inspired legislators to order the creation of fast-track courts dedicated to rape cases and stiffen penalties for those convicted of the crime.

Four men sentenced to death for the 2012 attack were later hanged.

Such crimes persist, and according to government data a woman is raped every 15 minutes in India.

Rights organisations say that woman who are on the lowest level of India’s unforgiving Hindu caste hierarchy – known as Dalits – are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and other attacks.

They say men from dominant castes often use sexual violence as a weapon to reinforce repressive hierarchies.

They say police frequently fail to investigate such crimes and survivors and the families of victims struggle to get justice.

Tina Verma, an activist who was among the 200 protesters gathered on Thursday outside the crematorium, said she frequently used to see the girl begging outside a Sufi Muslim shrine just across from the cremation ground.

“I shudder at the thought of what was done to her,” said Ms Verma, who has been on a hunger strike for two days to demand justice for the girl.

“This is a barbaric crime and must be dealt with swiftly.”

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