Brutal rape, murder of a woman in south India sparks protests

 Indian protestors shouting slogans during a demonstration against the rape and murder of a woman in Kochi on May 3, 2016.
Indian protestors shouting slogans during a demonstration against the rape and murder of a woman in Kochi on May 3, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

CHENNAI (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - Hundreds of people in southern India took to the streets on Tuesday (May 3) to demand a fast investigation into the rape, murder and mutilation of a woman whose death has drawn comparisons with a 2012 gang rape that forced a change to the law.

Indian police are looking for a suspect seen leaving the home of the 30-year-old woman, who suffered multiple stab wounds and had her intestines pulled out during the attack in Ernakulam, Kerala, investigators said.

Protesters gathered outside the hospital where the woman's body had been taken, holding placards demanding justice for the victim, who belonged to the Dalit group, traditionally the lowest ranked in India's caste system.

"Neighbours have come forward and said they heard noises and saw a man leaving the woman's home on April 28, the day of the murder. It appears to be someone she knew and we are following the leads we have," district police chief Yatish Chandra told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The brutality of the case has evoked comparisons in the local media with the gang rape and torture of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi in 2012, which sparked nationwide protests.

India toughened its anti-rape laws in response to the outcry following the 2012 attack, but rape, acid attacks, domestic violence and molestation are still common.

Last year India passed legislation lowering the age at which someone can be tried for rape and other crimes to 16.

Women's rights and violence against women has been under the spotlight since the 2012 killing and last week's attack underlines the particular vulnerability of women from lower castes, activists and experts said.

"At least 35 to 40 per cent of families in Kerala are headed by women. Even the mother of this young Dalit woman was bringing up two daughters in a vulnerable space with no security," said Ms J Devika of the Centre for Development Studies, a research institute in Trivandrum.

"That is disturbing and as is the fact that no one cared until it hit the headlines five days later," Ms Devika said.