NEW DELHI (AP) – Angry villagers in the Indian capital staged a protest outside a crematorium on Thursday where they said a 9-year-old girl was raped and killed earlier this week.
Protesters, seated on a makeshift stage, held signs demanding justice for the young girl, who lived nearby. The case has rekindled outrage over the number of horrific sex crimes against women in India as well as the treatment of people at the lowest level of the country’s rigid caste system, where the girl was from.
Four men suspected of the crime, all crematorium employees, have been arrested but have yet to be charged, police officer Ingit Pratap Singh said.
Police said the girl told her mother on Sunday that she was going to fetch water from the tap at the crematorium in southwest New Delhi. About 30 minutes later, according to police, the crematorium priest called the mother, who told him 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 crematorium floor with bruises all over it. She said the priest and three other men at the crematorium told her not to call the police and threatened her.
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The mother cannot be named due to Indian law which prohibits disclosure of information that could identify victims of sex crimes.
Villagers said some of the girl’s remains had been saved from the crematorium.
Singh said the extent of the cremation meant that a post-mortem examination could not establish whether the girl was raped or how she was killed.
“The cause of death is inconclusive,” he said.
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Police said forensic experts were testing his clothes for bodily fluids or other evidence.
The suspects are in custody but, under Indian law, they cannot be formally charged until the police investigation is completed.
Rape and sexual violence have been in the spotlight in India since the gang rape and murder in 2012 of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus. The attack sparked massive protests and inspired lawmakers to order the creation of fast-track courts dedicated to rape cases and to toughen sentences for those convicted of the crime.
Four men sentenced to death in the 2012 bombing were then hanged.
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Nonetheless, such crimes persist and, according to government data, a woman is raped every 15 minutes in India.
Rights organizations claim that women at the lowest level of India’s ruthless 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 strengthen repressive hierarchies. They say police frequently fail to investigate such crimes and that survivors and families of victims are fighting for justice.
Tina Verma, an activist who was among 200 protesters gathered outside the crematorium on Thursday, said she frequently saw the young girl begging outside a Sufi Muslim shrine directly across from the cremation site.
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“I shudder at the thought of what was done to her,” said Verma, who has been on hunger strike for two days to demand justice for the young girl. “It is a barbaric crime that must be dealt with quickly.”
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