Fresh protests erupted in India Tuesday amid growing public fury over a car crash that critically injured a teenager who accused a lawmaker from the ruling party of rape and harassment.
Two of the 19-year-old’s aunts were killed and her lawyer was badly injured when a truck collided with their car in northern Uttar Pradesh state Sunday, raising suspicions of foul play.
The incident will be probed by federal investigators amid speculation that local police could favour her alleged rapist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Kuldeep Singh Sengar.
Sengar, a four-term lawmaker, has been in jail since last year but reports say he still enjoys considerable clout.
The young woman and the lawyer were battling for their lives in hospital in the state capital Lucknow Tuesday.
The teenager had accused Sengar of raping her at his home in Unnao district in 2017 but police in the notoriously lawless state initially refused to take action.
Her father was detained by police and severely beaten in custody — allegedly by Sengar’s brother — and later died from his injuries.
The woman also tried to set herself on fire outside the home of state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a hardline BJP stalwart.
– ‘Too many coincidences’ –
On Tuesday, protesters tried to march towards the state government’s office in the capital New Delhi as they slammed Adityanath for failing to protect the teen.
“There are too many coincidences in this case,” social activist and one of the protest’s organisers Shabnam Hashmi told AFP.
“For months the police doesn’t register a case against the politician. Once that is done, her father is killed in police custody and now, a clear attempt to kill her.”
Earlier, members of opposition parties chanted slogans as they called for justice outside the national parliament.
“The BJP government should answer how a lawmaker who is in jail is able to plan a murderous attack like this?” said Mahua Moitra, a member of the opposition Trinamool Congress.
The teen’s family members staged a protest outside the Lucknow hospital, accusing Sengar of ordering the highway crash. There were also separate protests held by the opposition Congress party in Lucknow.
The demonstrations followed a rally late Monday, with supporters holding up banners with the words “you are not alone” in Hindi.
The protests were reminiscent of those that followed the fatal gang-rape of a Delhi student on a bus in 2012 that made headlines around the world.
That case unleashed public anger over rampant sexual violence against women in India, and the introduction of tough new laws to punish rapists.
But there has been no let-up in the number of assaults, with 40,000 rape cases reported every year.