, NEW DELHI, Oct 9 – Sonia Gandhi, president of India’s ruling Congress party, on Tuesday spoke out against a spate of rapes as she visited the family of a 16-year-old victim who committed suicide.
Gandhi, seen as the most powerful politician in India, travelled to a village in Haryana state near New Delhi to meet relatives of the girl in a high-profile attempt to demonstrate government outrage over the recent attacks.
Rape cases in Haryana have doubled over the last seven years, according to official figures, and a string of 12 alleged rapes in September — including one in which a victim’s father killed himself — attracted national headlines.
“We will take strict action against the offenders,” Gandhi told reporters during the visit. “Such barbaric acts are condemnable… rapists should be given the severest punishment.”
The girl committed suicide by burning herself to death last week after being gang-raped by men in Jind district, 80 miles (130 kilometres) from New Delhi.
Local police have arrested five men over the case, including one policeman, according to media reports.
“Now I am hopeful justice will be done,” said the victim’s mother after meeting Gandhi.
Rape has become a hot political issue in Haryana, with recent cases triggering widespread public anger across the state, which is ruled by the Congress party.
Womens’ rights group on Monday burnt effigies of the state’s chief minister and protested against some village elders who suggested that early marriage was a way to avoid rape.