Police have made a series of arrests in connection with the abduction and rape at gunpoint of five anti-trafficking campaigners in the central Indian state of Jharkhand early this week.
Khunti police station officials, where the incident happened, said that three people have been arrested, including the head of the school where the play was being performed.
Police superintendent Ashwini Kumar Sinha said a leader of a local movement called Pathalgadi instigated the accused, telling them that the play performers were against the movement and should be taught a lesson. Pathalgadi is a political movement whose followers recognize their village councils as the only sovereign authority and views all outsiders suspiciously.
Activists working in the area say the incident has left them shocked and worried for their safety.
Earlier this week, nine activists were abducted while performing a street play in Kochang village and driven into a forest, where they were beaten and the women raped.
The activists were from the nonprofit organization Asha Kiran, which runs a shelter in the Khunti district for young women rescued from trafficking. Activists say that while such incidents are rare, the abductions have shaken the community.
“There is definitely fear now,” said Rajan Kumar, of Sinduartola Gramodaya Vikas Vidyalaya, a nonprofit group campaigning against people trafficking in the district.
“But people have to work. We need to do more to take members of the village council into our confidence.”
Rajiv Ranjan Sinha, of the Jharkhand Anti-Trafficking Network, a coalition of 14 organizations, said the incident has frightened everyone.
“We’ve never had to face this before,” Sinha said. “But it will definitely have an implication. New people will be scared to go into the field.”
Several non-profit organizations have called for a silent protest march at 10 a.m. in the state capital Ranchi on Sunday.
At least 60 NGOS in four networks are working on a memorandum asking the state to protect activists and to take seriously the issue of violence against women.
“We are not only NGO workers, but we are female also,” a spokeswoman said. “There is a lot of fear among workers now.”
India has a poor record of sexual violence against women — at least 39,000 cases were reported in 2016, according to the latest government data available. Activists say many more incidents go unreported.
The country changed its rape laws and introduced Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences legislation after the rape and murder of a 19-year-old student in December 2012 in the Indian capital.
More recently it brought in the death penalty for those who rape children under the age of 12 following a national outcry over the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in the northern state of Kashmir.
The girl was kidnapped, drugged and raped in a temple where she was held captive for several days before being beaten to death.