BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) - Police have arrested 22 people in eastern India in three separate rape cases involving teenage girls, officials said on Sunday, as grisly new attacks against women come to light despite tougher penalties.
Reports of sexual assault of children have dominated headlines in recent weeks, leading to an outpouring of anger across the country.
Police arrested 14 men and a woman in one of the latest cases after a 16-year-old girl, who had been raped, was attacked and burned to death after her parents complained to a village council.
The village elders had levied a fine of 50,000 rupees ($749) on her two alleged assailants and asked them to do 100 sit-ups, said Ram Awadh Singh, chief of the local police station.
Enraged over the ruling by the village council, the alleged rapists were part of a mob that set the victim’s house on fire while she was inside. She died from injuries sustained in the fire.
The attack took place in the Chatra district of the eastern state of Jharkhand.
In addition to the two people who allegedly kidnapped and raped the girl on Thursday, police have also opened a case against 18 others. They include alleged members of the group that set fire to the house and members of the village council accused of failing to report the initial rape allegations to police.
“Fifteen people have been arrested and a hunt is on to nab the remaining,” Jharkhand’s Inspector General of police Ashish Batra told Reuters. The two alleged rapists are among those being held.
In a separate incident in the state, a 17-year old girl is battling for her life after being raped and set on fire by her assailant.
The victim, who was raped on Friday, is being treated in the neighboring West Bengal state, said Akhilesh Kumar Jha, Deputy Inspector General of police, adding a suspect had been arrested.
In neighboring Odisha state, police have also arrested six people including a juvenile for an alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old girl on Friday in the district of Sambalpur.
“The girl was first assaulted by one person and later by four others in different locations,” Police Inspector Jay Rashmi Sethi told Reuters. The sixth suspect is accused of restraining the victim while the others attacked her.
Reports of sexual violence have been steadily rising in India despite the national outrage that followed the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012.
The incidents come less than a month after India approved the death penalty for the rape of girls younger than 12, and increased the prison term for the rape of older girls and women after a particularly gruesome rape and murder of a Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir state.
Reported rape cases in India have climbed steadily in recent years to around 40,000 in 2016. Many more cases are believed to go unreported. Child rape accounts for about 40 percent of the reported cases.
Reporting by Jatindra Dash; Editing by Keith Weir