Wed, Nov 10, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Mobs of angry Indian women attack alleged rapists


Women from the slums in Nagpur, Maharashtra state, have attacked alleged rapists who they say are walking free from court, often with the connivance of the authorities.

Last weekend a mob, dominated by 50 women and led by a rape victim, burnt down the houses of three alleged rapists who had reportedly attacked residents with impunity for months.

The past few months have seen a series of incidents in Nagpur in which "people's justice" is administered by mobs.

Police described it as the worst form of "vigilantism" although they acknowledged its popularity.

"We have all waited for police to act, but nothing happens. The molestations and rapes go on and nobody does anything," said Madam Chandra, a women's rights activist in Nagpur.

She said police had charged 60 people involved in the latest incident, including a rape victim, for "destruction of property."

The razing of the alleged rapists' homes followed a series of high-profile cases which began in August when Akku Yadav, a gang leader who faced 24 criminal charges including murder, was stabbed and stoned to death in a court by a mob led by women. According to the women, he had raped young girls and pregnant women and sent his henchmen to extort money.

Despite repeated arrests, Yadav always walked out of jail and continued to terrorize the neighborhood.

Local people feared he would be released on bail again.

Police detained five women after the August attack but released them because of a public outcry.

Prominent among their supporters were 100 lawyers based in Nagpur who issued a statement saying the women should not be treated as the accused, but as the victims.

A report by a former top police officer in Nagpur blamed his former colleagues for a serious failure in law enforcement.

In another case last month two men accused of extortion and sex abuse were killed after demanding a woman hand over cash for protection. When she refused they tried to strip her. Before they could leave the area, both were attacked by a group of women.

One man died instantly, the other in hospital.

Experts said at the heart of the problem lay India's decrepit legal system, creaking under the weight of unheard cases. At the last count there were 20 million awaiting a hearing.

"A combination of judicial delays and police inaction is really at the bottom of all this," said Flavia Agnes, a lawyer and columnist for the Asian Age newspaper. "Rape cases can last for years without a verdict and people feel that they get no justice. So they decide to take the matter into their own hands."

Their desperation showed just how weak the state has become over the past 20 years, said Sunita Narain, who campaigns on social issues.

"Through deliberate abuse or apathy we have see the role of the Indian state as protector being whittled away," she said.

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