A 22-year-old woman died of severe injuries in India after being allegedly gang raped on Tuesday, according to authorities – the same day another 19-year-old woman died from a separate gang rape incident, prompting nationwide outrage and growing protests.
Both women, from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, were Dalits – the lowest-ranked in India’s caste-based hierarchy, according to the All India Mahila Congress, the women’s wing of India’s main opposition party. Dalits, who were referred to as “untouchables” in the past, still experience severe discrimination in India.
The 22-year-old woman’s family told police in a statement that she didn’t return home, in the city of Balrampur, until late Tuesday night; when they tried to call her, they couldn’t reach her.
“Some time later the woman came home in a rickshaw and had a tube attached to her arm which is typically used to administer glucose, she seemed to be in a bad state so the family took her to the hospital but she died on the way,” said Dev Ranjan Verma, Superintendent of Police in Balrampur, on Wednesday.
Two men have been arrested for alleged rape and murder, Verma said. The woman’s family has been given 600,000 rupees (about $8,165), and has been assured that the police and district would provide any assistance necessary, Verma added.
The news of the 22-year-old’s death broke as public anger was already building over the earlier case of the 19-year-old Dalit woman, who also died on Tuesday after being allegedly gang raped two weeks ago. Her rape had also taken place in Uttar Pradesh, but she was later transferred to a hospital in New Delhi due to the severity of her injuries.
Four men have been arrested and booked for rape and murder in the 19-year-old’s case, according to the police in Hathras district. All four were from an upper caste community and have also been booked for crimes against minorities, according to the statement.
India’s caste system was officially abolished in 1950, but the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, what jobs they can do and who they can marry.
According to human rights organizations including the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to caste-based violence and discrimination.
The 19-year-old’s death sparked protests across Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, which spread to major cities including New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, and are still ongoing.
Hundreds of angry protesters chanted and waved banners as they marched through the streets of Hathras. Some demonstrators gathered outside the Delhi hospital where she died; another protest took place near the Indian President’s residence, where several dozen people were detained for violating pandemic restrictions.
Public anger intensified after allegations that the victim’s body had been cremated by Hathras police without her family’s consent – which the police and district magistrate denied. The magistrate, Praveen Kumar Laxkar, told reporters on Tuesday the family had been present at the cremation.
The state government announced Wednesday that a special investigation would look into the 19-year-old’s rape allegations, and that the investigative team will have seven days to submit their report. Once the investigation concludes, the four men’s hearings will take place in a fast-track court, according to state government spokesperson Mrityunjay Kumar.
The woman’s family has also been granted a compensation of about $34,000, a government job for a family member and a new house in the village, he added in a statement.
CNN’s Swati Gupta contributed to this report.