Another young woman was found hanging from a tree in Uttar Pradesh on Friday, the latest grisly attack on women in India’s most populous state. 19-year old Rita Yadav went missing in the night from her home in Rajupur village in Moradabad and was found hanging from a tree the next morning.
According to the Hindustan Times, the police believe this is a case of honour killing. A local youth from a different caste, Gautam Jatav, was reportedly in love with Rita, but her family accuses Gautam of harassing their daughter for the past few months.
The complicated patchwork of castes and sub-castes in Uttar Pradesh has created fault-lines for centuries, but young women seem to be increasingly paying the price as their aspirations clash with a conservative society.
Five rapes or murders were reported within 36 hours in the state this week, according to Reuters, including two women who were then killed.
One of the five rapes was later found to be false, when the victim confessed to having concocted her allegation of being gang-raped by policemen inside a police station. According to the Hindustan Times, she denied the incident took place, while answering a 50-point questionnaire by female police officers.
Uttar Pradesh has been in the international spotlight after two teenage cousins from a low-caste community were gang-raped and hanged on May 27. Despite the public uproar that followed, the wave of crime against women shows no signs of reducing.
The state government is run by a regional political party, the Samajwadi Party, and its Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has been unable to stem the rising crime graph. Since he was elected to power in 2012 the state has been rocked by communal riots and a deteriorating law and order problem.
The surge in violence against women has become a political issue as opposition parties have demanded the Chief Minister’s resignation. The BJP, which won 71 out of the state’s 80 parliamentary seats in the general election in May and is now in power at the centre, has targeted the Samajwadi Party for the recent violence.
Yadav seems largely unperturbed by the rapes and murders on his watch. He met businessmen in New Delhi on Thursday to drum up investment and claimed that media reports of crimes were exaggerated.
"In Uttar Pradesh, not only is the atmosphere good but law and order, compared with many other states, is also better," Yadav declared.
The conservative Samajwadi Party has consistently opposed women’s rights, according to Shivam Vij of Scroll.in. The Chief Minister’s father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, a former defence minister seen as the power behind his son’s administration, has even called for India’s new tough rape laws to be softened.
"Boys are boys, they make such mistakes. That doesn't mean that you award them capital punishment," he declared at a rally in April.
The party's leader in Mumbai, Abu Azmi, created a furore when he said that if rapists could be hanged, women having sex outside marriage should also be hanged. He didn't mention men in his tirade against pre-marital sex.
Uttar Pradesh remains one of India’s poorest states and has largely missed out on the economic development that has lifted millions out of poverty in the rest of the country over the past two decades.
The sex ratio is also highly skewed in the state with just 912 women for every 1,000 men. In Uttar Pradesh’s population of 200 million, there are 9.1 million more men than women. This is a potential social time bomb that the state administration seems unwilling to contemplate, let alone deal with.