NEW DELHI – Hundreds of protesters on Friday demanded the dismissal of the government of a northern Indian state where a 19-year-old woman from the country's lowest caste was allegedly gang raped and later died in a hospital.
The demonstrators shouted “Hang the rapists” and ”First raped by devils, then by the system” as they gathered near Parliament in New Delhi.
The protesters, including Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar, said the Uttar Pradesh state government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party did not allow anyone to meet the victim’s family and that police cordoned off their village.
Protesters accused authorities of trying to hush up the crime. Police have said they have arrested four suspects, all from an upper caste.
The state government suspended five police officer for alleged negligence in their handling of the investigation of the case, said Awanish Kumar Awasthi , a top state official.
Awasthi also said the police officers, the four suspects in the case and the victim's family will also undergo lie-detector tests as part of investigation.
Indian television news channels on Friday showed journalists being refused entry to the village by many police officers. One posted outside the village said the media would be allowed in after the investigation into the case is completed.
Bhaskar said the hasty cremation of the victim’s body without the family's approval showed the callousness by the state government. She demanded the dismissal of Yogi Adiyanath, the state's top elected official.
The victim was cremated early Wednesday, with the family alleging that police did not allow them to perform her final rites. Videos on social media showed the family weeping as police insisted on cremating the body without allowing them to take it home.
A leader of the main opposition Congress party, Priyanka Gandhi said she was prevented by police from visiting the family on Thursday with her brother, Rahul Gandhi.
Priyanka Gandhi said at a prayer meeting at a temple in New Delhi on Friday that blocking off the village was an injustice to the family and showed that the state is unsafe for women.
Dalits — formerly known as “untouchables” and at the bottom of India’s Hindu caste hierarchy — are victims of thousands of attacks each year. According to human rights organizations, Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to caste-based discrimination and sexual violence.
In India, rape and sexual violence have been under the spotlight since the 2012 gang rape and killing of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus. The attack galvanized massive protests and inspired lawmakers to order the creation of fast-track courts dedicated to rape cases and stiffen penalties for those convicted of the crime.