Gang rape once more dominates the Indian media Monday, as the country listens, horrified and embarrassed, to new details of a brutal attack on a Swiss tourist on March 15.
The woman and her husband were attacked by a mob of young men when they were camping in a forest near a road in Madhya Pradesh. Both were beaten; the woman was raped by several of the men while others restrained her husband. The men carried sticks and at least one gun, police say.
On Monday, police paraded five men before television cameras, saying they are local farmers who have confessed to the crime. They are between 20 and 25 years old.
The “accused have confessed to gang-raping the woman,” Dilip Arya, the deputy inspector general of police in the area, told reporters. He said that at least two other men were involved and are being sought by police. Twenty men were initially detained but the rest have been released.
India has been engaged in a national debate about violence against women since December, when a 23-year-old Delhi physiotherapy student and her friend were attacked on a bus by six men. She was brutally raped and died 13 days later of her injuries. Five of the six men accused in that attack are now on trial in Delhi. The case spurred protests nationwide, and prompted government hastily to draft a new law on sexual assault (which includes the death penalty for cases of “extreme” rape). It was approved by cabinet on the same day the Swiss tourist was attacked.
While female tourists in India often complain of verbal and sometimes physical harassment in the streets and on public transportation, an attack like this on a foreigner is relatively rare.
After the attack the couple made their way to the main road and flagged down a motorcyclist who took them to the police station in the nearest town. But no one there spoke English. The victim endured hours of police questioning through a volunteer translator who was rousted from bed, and then transported 75 kilometres so that a female doctor could perform a medical examination to “confirm rape”, according to Indian media.
Television channels have been running a grim image of the victim – still clad in quick-dry, sunproof cycling tour clothes, with the addition of a giant white hood to hide her identity – being bundled by female police officers through mobs of reporters into offices in Madhya Pradesh. She and her husband were taken by train to Delhi on Sunday.
“While speaking to the Ambassador the couple expressed their readiness to fully co-operate in the ongoing investigation and identification process,” the Swiss Embassy said in a statement. “They will continue to stay in India for the moment … The embassy has also been in touch with the local authorities and has requested a swift investigation and for justice to be done.”
The couple had previously cycled through Iran, and arrived in India in February planning to cycle from Mumbai to Delhi. The day of the attack they had visited the riverside town of Orchha, which is dotted with crumbling Mogul-era palaces and monuments, and they were bound for Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
They were robbed of their laptop, cellphone and 10,000 rupees ($188) in cash before they were physically assaulted.
The attack has dominated television news and newspaper pages for the past several days – eclipsing a litany of other grim crimes against women and girls, including the murder of a 16-year-old in Delhi who may have been killed for having married outside her religion; the murder in Agra of a young woman pursuing a PhD in nanotechnology who was knifed to death in her lab; and the rapes of four different girls in areas surrounding the national capital since late last week.