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Delhi CNN  — 

Her hair was cut off and her face painted black before she was paraded into the street where some people in a cheering crowd called for her to be raped.

But perhaps the most shocking aspect of the attack in a Delhi neighborhood last month is that video shared on social media shows that most of the baying mob were women.

At least 12 people have been arrested by the Delhi police, eight of whom are women. Two are minors. Police have not brought charges over the incident, but they say the 20-year-old victim of the January 26 attack was abducted and physically and sexually assaulted.

The alleged involvement of women has touched a nerve in a country that has long struggled to address gender violence. Activists say the case demonstrates the scale of internalized misogyny in India, where women are taught to uphold patriarchal structures. They fear violence against women will worsen as support grows for right-wing extremist political groups that foster traditional, patriarchal values.

A series of images taken from a video being circulated on social media show a 20-year-old woman paraded down the street after being physically and sexually assaulted. The video was blurred by the source.

Swati Maliwal, the chairperson of the Delhi Commission of Women, said the woman told her she’d been raped by three men.

“There were women present (in the room)…instigating the men to be more brutal with her,” Maliwal told CNN, recounting what the victim had told her.

“When I saw that video and I saw these women attacking this girl…it just makes you feel so angry and sad that you have such women who can do something like that.”

It is unclear if any of the people captured on video in the crowd are involved in the alleged assault or have been booked by police.

The victim’s sister watched part of the attack unfold but was powerless to stop it.

“I was thinking of shouting, of telling someone, but the (accused) women grabbed me, saying they would beat me up,” said the 18-year-old, who CNN is calling Aarti to protect her sister’s identity as Indian law prohibits revealing the identity of rape victims.

Aarti told CNN her sister – who is married – was attacked by the relatives of a teenage boy, who they say killed himself after her sister spurned his advances. CNN has attempted to contact representatives for the alleged offenders though it is not clear if they have lawyers.

“They (alleged perpetrators) blamed her, but she didn’t do anything,” Aarti said. “I never thought they would go this far.”

The attack

On the morning of January 26, Aarti told CNN she delivered a bag of wheat to her sister’s house in eastern Delhi’s Shahdara district.

But when her sister came downstairs to collect it, an angry mob rushed in.

“They started hitting and beating my sister. This was happening in front of me, but I just stood there, I didn’t know what to do…I was frozen with fear,” Aarti said.

The teenager does not remember how many people there were, only that there were “a lot of them” and they included men and women from another local family.

Aarti said the group tried to snatch her sister’s two-and-a-half-year-old son, but Aarti “somehow fought them off” and held onto him as the group bundled her sister in an autorickshaw.

Clutching her nephew, she followed them in another rickshaw, accompanied by two of the alleged perpetrators to the residential Kasturba Nagar area of Delhi less than two miles away – where the alleged perpetrators live near the house Aarti shares with her father.

Kasturba Nagar is a low to middle-income neighborhood in Delhi where women sit and chat outside brightly painted homes and men cluster around local tea shops. On the day of the attack people were off work to mark Republic Day, the anniversary of the day India’s constitution was adopted – but the day has taken on new significance for Aarti and her family.

The Shahdra district of Delhi where the alleged attack occurred on January 26.

The rickshaw stopped at the alleged perpetrators’ house, but as Aarti couldn’t see her sister, she went inside her own home and latched the door.

Soon after, she heard a commotion outside and from behind a wall watched her sister being led through the street as women hit her with rods.

Her hair had been cut off, her face blackened, and she had a garland of slippers around her neck – all actions meant to mark her as perhaps deserving of public shame.

Aarti said the women took her sister around the neighborhood, shoving, slapping and beating her sister for at least half an hour.

“I couldn’t believe no one in the neighborhood spoke up or tried to help, they only cheered,” said Aarti.

Aarti said she called police on a borrowed cellphone and they arrived 15 minutes later.

At the police station, Aarti’s sister told her she had been locked in a room where a “wrong was done to her” – a colloquial phrase in India referring to sexual assault – before being paraded in the street.

R Sathiyasundaram, the deputy police commissioner of Shahdara district, said the investigation is still underway and would not say which laws the alleged perpetrators had been arrested under.

He declined to confirm the nature of the sexual assault or details of the incident.

“We cannot reveal all that, it’s a matter of investigation,” he said.

Internalized misogyny

Though many Indians were shocked that women would allegedly incite rape, others say it’s not surprising in a country with strong patriarchal values.

Ten years ago, lawyer Seema Kushwaha represented “Nirbhaya,” a 23-year-old student who died after being gang-raped on a Delhi bus in 2012. Outrage led to stronger rape laws, but activists say those have had little impact in stemming the level of sexual violence in India, which was ranked the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman in a 2018 Thompson Reuters Foundation survey of experts on women’s issues.

Kushwaha says the problem persists because of societal issues – and those are harder to change.