An Indian court has ordered the arrest of politician accused of gang-raping a teenager and beating her father to death as protests spread over this case and another involving the gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl.
The high court in Allahabad city on Friday ordered the arrest of Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a member of the Uttar Pradesh state parliament with the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), after days of public outrage over the alleged crime, his defiant response and the apparent apathy of police.
Singh Sengar and his brother Atul Singh Sengar have been accused of raping a 15-year-old girl last June in a town in his constituency near the state capital, Lucknow.
The family tried unsuccessfully for months to persuade police to register a case against the powerful local official until last Tuesday, when the family alleges he and a group barged into their home, molested the girl again, tied her father to a tree and beat him.
The case came to national prominence this week when the teenager tried to burn herself alive outside the residence of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. The next day, her father, who had been detained by local police after he was alleged assaulted, died in custody.
At the same time, details of the alleged rape and murder of Asifa Bano, eight, in Kathua, in Jammu and Kashmir state, became national news after a group of Hindu lawyers tried to barricade a courtroom in the district to stop police from lodging charges.
The protesters, who were backed by state BJP ministers, allege the investigation into the alleged attack on the girl, who is a member of a nomadic Muslim tribe, was biased because some of the officers involved were also Muslim.
Details of the crime – the child was allegedly confined in a Hindu temple in January, repeatedly raped for three days and then killed with a rock – as well as the sight of Hindu protesters advocating the release of the accused men sparked revulsion and protests across India on Friday.
The refusal of the Narendra Modi, a staunch Hindu nationalist, to comment has fuelled the anger. The prime minister finally addressed the alleged crimes on Friday evening, telling an event in Delhi they “cannot be part of a civilised society”.
“As a country, as a society we all are ashamed of it,” he said. “I want to assure the country that no culprit will be spared, complete justice will be done. Our daughters will definitely get justice.”
The previous evening, hundreds of people attended a candlelit vigil for both victims at Delhi’s India Gate monument. The monument was the scene of protests more than five years ago over the gang-rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a student who came to be known as Nirbhaya – Hindi for fearless.
“We are totally questioning what progress we’ve made,” said Poonam Muttreja, an activist who has founded several organisations for women’s rights and health. “After Nirbhaya we got strong new laws, but they don’t seem to be working for the weak, only the powerful.”
Protests have been held across Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal states, and another large demonstration is planned for the capital on Sunday.