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Indian political brawling shows rape a voter issue
The nationwide outcry over the 2012 gang rape in New Delhi led the federal government to rush legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalizing voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women. The law also makes it a crime for officers to refuse to open cases.
But the same gang rape case helped bring down New Delhi's local government in a ballot last month, with many Delhiites questioning how a so-called "fast-track" court took more than seven months to deliver a guilty verdict.
Police in Mumbai earned praise for quickly rounding up five teenagers accused of raping a photojournalist within a day of her reporting the attack, but the death of the girl in West Bengal stoked public demands that police be held accountable for their response to sexual violence.
"The girl should have been protected, and since there was no protection she was raped again and subsequently killed," said Mamta Sharma, chairwoman of the National Commission for Women.
"The public anger on the incident is genuine. All parents want to see their daughters are safe," independent Kolkata political analyst Subir Bhowmik said. "The government wants to show that they are not at fault and working for the people. Opposition parties also want to reap benefit from this issue."
Some activists warn that political posturing could harm efforts to improve women's safety by turning particularly savage cases like the one in West Bengal into opportunities for media hounds and voyeurs.
Little publicity was given to the case in the weeks after the girl reported being gang raped in October and left in a field near her home in the Madhyamgram suburb of Kolkata, formerly Calcutta. A day later, while returning with her parents from reporting the crime to police, her family said she was abducted by the same men and gang raped again before being left unconscious by railway tracks.
When the family fled to a new home in another suburb called Dum Dum, they said they were visited on Dec. 23 by associates of the girl's attackers and threatened with violence if they didn't withdraw their police complaint. Later that day, the girl was set on fire in her home. She died from her injuries on Dec. 31.
"The West Bengal government is responsible for inaction, but the opposition is equally insensitive in terms of politicizing the rape of a child," said Ranjana Kumari, a women's activist with the Center for Social Research. "We need all parties to set politics aside and address an issue that affects us all."
Associated Press Writer Manik Banerjee contributed to this report from Kolkata.