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Protests Erupt In India After Alleged Rape And Killing Of A Female Veterinarian


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We want justice. We want justice.


Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets in a city in southern India called Hyderabad. Protesters are demanding justice after the alleged rape and murder of a local veterinarian there. The crime was particularly brutal, and it has prompted a nationwide conversation about how to stop sexual violence against women in India. With us now is NPR's Lauren Frayer, who is following the story from Mumbai. Hey, Lauren.


CHANG: So can you just tell us a little more about what happened to this woman?

FRAYER: Yeah. This woman called her family last Wednesday to say she'd gotten a flat tire on the side of the road, but a truck driver was helping her, and she'd be home soon. And that's the last they heard from her. Police believe now that four men deflated her tires and posed as good Samaritans to trick her and then gang-raped and murdered her. Her body was found in a wooded area the next day. It's unclear whether she died before or after they doused her with fuel and set her on fire. She was 27 years old.

Police say four men have been arrested and that they've confessed. There's some CCTV footage that verifies some details, too. Three police officers have been suspended from duty, and that's because the victim's family says when they reported her missing, police asked, well, does she have a boyfriend? Maybe she ran away to elope. They're alleged to have squandered valuable time there that could have been used to rescue her.

CHANG: We heard the demonstrations in Hyderabad at the top of the segment, but what are other ways that people are reacting in India to this? What are politicians saying, for example?

FRAYER: This came up on the floor of parliament. A prominent female lawmaker called for the suspects to be lynched in public. The defense minister says this has, quote, "brought shame on the entire country." There have been candlelight vigils, protests spreading across the country, women marching with placards saying, tomorrow is too late.

In Hyderabad, where the attack took place, police have issued a safety advisory, urging solo female travellers to use location-sharing apps on your phone. The chief minister in the state where Hyderabad is says that these suspects will be fast-tracked to trial. Trials in India sometimes are delayed for years, and he promises this will not happen here.

CHANG: I mean, this isn't the first time this country has had a national conversation about sexual violence against women. I remember just a few years ago, a woman was gang-raped on a bus. It led to a national uproar. Do you think the conversation about violence against women has noticeably changed in India?

FRAYER: So there was that 2012 gang rape on a Delhi bus, and that led to the government doubling prison time for rapists. But it's still complicated. Last year, an international survey ranked India the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman because of sexual violence. You know, attacks like this one in Hyderabad or that 2012 gang rape - this is everybody's worst nightmare - a stranger attacking a woman in the night. But this is not typical of India.

Most sexual assault here is thought to happen within families. People here tend to live among extended relatives. I called up Kalpana Sharma. She's the author of a new book about sexual violence in India, and I asked her, who is most likely to become a victim here?

KALPANA SHARMA: Without doubt, it is poor women, women of the lowest castes, women in far-out areas, in conflict zones, in Kashmir - you know, many women where the violence is within their homes and within their neighborhoods. And yet, people's understanding of violence against women gets distorted.

FRAYER: She notes that the cases that get the most outrage, the most protests, the most media coverage are when victims are urban professionals attacked by strangers in this incredibly brutal way, as in this case. And those details serve to terrorize people. But the hope is that this case, just like that 2012 case, prompts actions against sexual violence in India and understanding of who its victims are.

CHANG: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in Mumbai. Thank you so much, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.