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Rape of Indian teen raises gender debate

Nov. 5, 2012 at 2:24 PM

NEW DELHI, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- The rape of a teenage Indian girl by a group of men from a higher caste has raised criticism by rights groups of responses downplaying the assault.

Seven men in the state of Haryana have been arrested for the September rape, touching off a fiery debate about India's attitudes towards women, the British newspaper The Independent reported Monday.

The girl, 16, is a member of the "untouchable" Dalit caste. She did not report the assault for 10 days because of threats by the men, from the higher Jat caste, that they would distribute photos taken during the rape. Her father, unable to deal with the trauma, committed suicide after the girl told her mother.

Haryana has the country's worst gender ratio, with 830 girls for every 1,000 boys. Figures from the National Crime Records Bureau reveal the number of rapes in Haryana increased from 386 in 2004 to 733 in 2011.

Some Indian men have attempted to downplay the incident. A member of a village council blamed the high incidence of assaults on the consumption of fast food. The state's former chief minister suggested lowering the legal age for marriage to 15 would reduce the number of rapes.

In the month since the rape, at least a dozen rapes have been reported, many of them gang rapes.

The conviction rate for rapes is 13 percent, in part because many cases are routinely settled out of court, rights groups say. While there are laws, "on the ground there is impunity," said Asha Kotwal of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

She added that a stringent application of the law would send a strong message.

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