Two prominent leaders of India’s opposition Congress Party were attacked and arrested by police on Thursday while trying to visit the family of a gang rape victim whose death has sparked nationwide protests.
Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi claim their convoy was stopped by police in Greater Noida, a satellite city on the outskirts of New Delhi, before he was beaten with wooden sticks known as lathi and wrestled to the ground.
Footage shared on social media by Mr Gandhi’s team shows police pushing him, after which he appears to fall.
“Just now, police pushed me, lathi-charged me and threw me to the ground,” Mr Gandhi told Asian News International.
“I want to ask, can only Modi-ji walk in this country? Can’t a normal person walk? Our vehicle was stopped so we started walking.”
The Congress Party has condemned the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the brutal gang rape of the 20-year-old Dalit woman, who died from her injuries on Tuesday after fighting for her life for two weeks.
The opposition party argues the BJP has not done enough to ensure women’s safety in India, where 91 women are raped each day.
Dalit, formerly known as lower-caste women, are particularly vulnerable as they receive little protection from India’s judicial system.
Since the victim’s death, members of the Dalit community in her home district of Hathras in Uttar Pradesh have clashed with the police, leading to 25 arrests.
The arrests came as a second Dalit woman died after being gang raped in Uttar Pradesh. Her mother told the BBC on Thursday that the 22-year-old woman had been walking to register for admission at a local school before being attacked.
The police have not explained why they arrested the Gandhis but they were travelling in a convoy and as of this morning, emergency laws in the Hathras district forbade gatherings of over four people.
A senior Congress Party politician told the Telegraph the arrests were a politically motivated attempt to stop the Gandhis reaching Hathras.
“Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi being detained when they wished to meet with the family of the victim of a most gruesome crime and express their solidarity against the injustice is part of the larger pattern of creeping authoritarianism in India from Parliament to the streets,” said Jairam Ramesh, an MP and Chief Whip of the Congress Party.
The brutal rape of the Dalit woman in Hathras has spawned protests across India, with parallels drawn with the 2012 Nirbhaya case in New Delhi.
Unrest is expected to continue this evening after the Indian media reported the death of a second Dalit woman in Uttar Pradesh, who was allegedly gang raped in a village 310 miles away from Hathras on Tuesday.