A 15-Year-Old Girl Who Was Raped and Set on Fire in India Is Fighting for Her Life

The girl is in critical condition with burns on 95 percent of her body after she was raped, beaten, and set alight on the rooftop terrace of her family’s home.
March 8, 2016, 9:15pm
Familiares en la terraza de la casa donde una niña de 15 años fue quemada después de haber sido violada en el pueblo de Tigri, cerca de Noida, en las afueras de Nueva Delhi, India, martes, 8 de marzo de 2016. (Imagen AP/Saurabh Das)

A 15-year-old girl is in critical condition with burns on 95 percent of her body after she was raped, beaten, and set alight on the rooftop terrace of her family's home, not far from New Delhi.

The incident serves as a horrific reminder that sexual violence against women remains a persistent and serious problem in India, despite new laws approved by the Indian government designed to protect women and prevent sexual assault.

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Constable Yadram Singh of the Bisrakh police station told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the victim told authorities that her assailant had stalked her for months. According to the constable, the police have arrested a 20-year-old man for allegedly raping and burning the 15-year old girl. Singh said the suspect, who reportedly had burns on his hands, has been charged with rape, attempted murder, and assault of a minor, among other charges. According to the AP, the police report says the girl's parents found her covered in burns after hearing her screaming from the rooftop terrace before dawn on Monday.

Related: How India Is Fixing Its Rape Culture — and Why There's Still a Long Way Left to Go

Amnesty International's most recent overview of the state of human rights in India came to damning conclusions about the country's failed efforts to protect women from violence. The report notes that 322,000 crimes against women – including 37,000 cases of rape – were reported in 2014. However, those figures are believed to be a significant underestimate, because "stigma and discrimination from police officials and authorities continued to deter women from reporting sexual violence," according to Amnesty International.

The report also notes that "a majority of states continued to lack standard operating procedures for the police to deal with cases of violence against women," adding that 123,000 instances of abuse reported by women was at the hands of a spouse or relative.

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The fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old on a New Delhi bus four years ago sparked a national conversation about sexual violence, prompting the Indian government to hastily put together a package of measures to keep women safe and quell public anger. Some of those new measures included doubling prison sentences for rape crimes and criminalizing stalking. But many human rights groups say the laws fell short of making any real change. Marital rape is an ongoing and frequent occurrence, and is currently not outlawed by Indian law. Members of India's armed forces also enjoy a special impunity under the law when charged with sexual assault. There have also been calls to better educate young men and women about sexual respect and safety, as well as to install streetlights and public bathrooms.

Police arrested another 20-year old man on Sunday night suspected of raping a six-year old. On Monday, a woman in Calcutta jumped from the balcony of two-storey house during a party to escape three men who allegedly attempted to gang rape her. Last week, a Kerala priest was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the rape of a 12-year-old girl. Also last week, a teenage rape victim in India's east said she was assaulted by a security guard in the hospital where she was receiving treatment for the original attack. In the northern state of Haryana, three boys allegedly kidnapped a teenage girl from her home and repeatedly raped her in a field until she was able to escape.

Related: Police Investigate Gang Rape of American Tourist in Northern India

On Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for female lawmakers to address the parliament on International Women's Day was an unintentionally revealing reminder that gender inequality pervades at all levels. Of the 543 elected members in the lower house, just 62 are women. The women who did speak reiterated their determination to pass long-stalled legislation requiring 33 percent of lawmakers to be women.

According to the India Exclusion Report, women are one of the most excluded groups in India. The report found that 43 percent of working-age women were confined to domestic work – and those who do work outside the home often face exploitation and low pay.