Untouchable burnt to death after accusing high-caste man of rape

By Justin Huggler in Delhi 
Published: 25 November 2006 


Asha Katiya was 15 years old. When she was raped she
did not, like many Indian women, try to hide it for
shame. She went to the police and registered a case
against her attacker. She later said he had threatened
to kill her unless she dropped the case. This week she
was burned to death. A man broke into her house while
she was sleeping and poured kerosene over her. The man
she accused of raping her has been detained in
connection with her death. 

But there has been no outcry in India. The case has
been barely reported. Because Asha Katiya was a Dalit,
a member of the former Untouchable caste, and India
has become used to outrages like this being carried
out against Dalits.

The man Asha accused of raping her, and who her family
say killed her, comes from an upper-caste family. Even
as Asha lay dying, upper-caste neighbours refused to
take her to hospital, according to relatives.

Asha accused a local upper-caste man of raping her
last year. It was no small matter for her to go to the
police in Indian rural society, where being a victim
of rape is still considered deeply shameful.

India's cities may be changing fast, but Asha came
from Sahalwada, a small village in Madhya Pradesh
state, part of the great rural hinterland where there
is barely a sign of India's emergence as an economic
power. In the villages, a man accused of rape may be
found guilty and punished by the courts. But a woman
who comes forward as a rape victim is certain of her
punishment by society. She faces little prospect of
marriage, and life for an unmarried woman in the
villages is bleak.

As she lay dying of her injuries in hospital on
Wednesday, Asha allegedly told police that the upper
caste man was her murderer, and that he had previously
threatened to kill her unless she changed her
statement so the charges against him would be dropped.
Her mother, Shashibai, told The Indian Express the
family was preparing to flee but Asha was killed
before they could leave. An aunt has also come forward
to the suspect as as the man she saw fleeing after the
incident. But the alleged rapists parents say he was
with them when the incident occurred.

The incident is the latest attack on Dalits in India.
It comes even as protests are continuing in
Maharashtra state over the murder of four members of a
Dalit family in a village there. They were killed by
upper-caste residents because they refused to hand
over a field they owned so locals could build a road
over it. 


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