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Officer: “It is a crime to be born as a woman in India”

A police officer who was gang raped three weeks ago as she escorted her sister’s body to be cremated said the national outrage over the fatal sexual assault of a student in December has done little to change the lives of most Indian women.

The officer, who can’t be named under a law that grants victims anonymity, said rapes occur with virtual impunity and many of those assaulted feel social pressure not to report the crimes. The woman was traveling with her family when she was pulled out of their car by men wielding axes and repeatedly raped in Jharkhand state in eastern India, the police said.

“It is a crime to be born as a woman in India,” said the policewoman, 27, a mother of two girls and a widow whose husband was shot dead by Maoist insurgents in 2011. “You always live in fear, as anything can happen to you at any time.”

A New Delhi court yesterday found four men guilty of the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in a case that caused national outrage and drew attention to a surge in violence against women in the country. The attack spurred weeks of nationwide protests and triggered an unprecedented debate about sexual violence in the world’s largest democracy.

Even after the assault in New Delhi prompted politicians to pass a law that imposes tougher sentences on men who commit sexual assaults, India is struggling to tame the violent and chauvinistic attitudes that leave women vulnerable to harassment and rape.

“These types of incidents won’t stop,” the policewoman said. “I worry about what society my two daughters will grow up in. I worry about what will happen to them, what their future will be, who will give them security.”

The officer was traveling along a highway to her village shortly after midnight Aug. 22 with the body of her sister, who had been shot dead by criminals in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, one of India’s poorest states, close to the border with Bangladesh.

A gang of five men blocked the road with boulders about 3 miles outside the town of Latehar, she said. The men ordered the six family members in their vehicle to hand over their money and gold. Frustrated with their lack of possessions the men grew angry and decided to rape her, she said.

Even after the woman said she was a police officer and her dead relative was in a car behind them, and despite pleas from her father and brother to spare her, two of the men took her into the woods close to the road and took turns raping her, she said.

“They told us if I don’t go with them, we will have to take another dead body,” she said in a telephone interview.

Five men have been charged with rape and robbery, Alok Kumar, deputy superintendent of the police of Latehar, said in an interview. The defendants are between 20 and 22 years old and have confessed to the crime, he said.

The attack occurred the same night as a photojournalist working as an intern at a magazine was gang raped in an abandoned textile mill in Mumbai, an incident that triggered street protests and reignited the debate about women’s safety.

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