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Woman burnt to death in rape row

The Dalit were formerly known as the 'untouchables.'
The Dalit were formerly known as the 'untouchables.'

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Traditionally, Dalits were not allowed to enter temples, share well water or food, or live in the same areas as people of upper castes. Untouchables had no rights and were assigned menial jobs such as cleaning toilets.

BHOPAL, India -- A young "untouchable" woman was set alight and burned to death by the angry father of an upper-caste man she accused of raping her.

The man forced his way into the home of the 16-year-old Dalit, or lower caste, woman when her parents were away in their fields, a police official in India's central state of Madhya Pradesh told Reuters news agency.

He then poured kerosene on her and set her alight.

The man was angry, the official said, because the woman filed a complaint against his son with police in the village of Kachnondha, 465 km (290 miles) from Bhopal, the state capital.

"The accused had threatened the girl with dire consequences in case she told anyone about the incident," Superintendent R.S. Meena told Reuters.

"Seeing the tension among lower and upper castes in the village after the incident, heavy police force has been deployed in the village."

More than 160 million Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, live in India today, according to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR).

That group is seeking to "cast out caste" for the Dalits, who are considered to be at the bottom, or even outside of, Hinduism's 2,500-year-old caste system.

Still suffer

Dalit females are particularly disadvantaged.
Dalit females are particularly disadvantaged.

Traditionally Dalits were not allowed to enter temples, share well water or food, or live in the same areas as people of upper castes. Untouchables had no rights and were assigned menial jobs such as cleaning toilets.

Several years ago it became illegal to discriminate against Dalits, and reservations were made for them in law-making bodies, administration and educational institutions.

But global rights groups say they continue to suffer discrimination including torture, rape, arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial killings.

Every now and again violence breaks out when the "untouchables" attempt to claim their rights to vote, send their children to school or seek political office.

The problem is still so rife that if an upper caste Hindu is touched by an "untouchable," or the shadow of a Dalit falls upon them, they have to go through a series of rituals to be cleansed.

Late last year, the U. N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination condemned the descent-based caste discrimination in India and passed a resolution against it.



Reuters contributed to this report.

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