A teenage girl in India has died after she was set on fire by an alleged stalker — who became irate when she rejected his marriage proposal.
Ankita Singh, 19, was asleep in her bed near an open window around 4 a.m. on August 23 when a man doused her body in gasoline and tossed a lit match, the BBC Hindi reported.
Singh was rushed to the hospital with severe burns but died Sunday as a result of the heinous attack.
Before she died from her injuries, Singh identified the man as Shahrukh Hussain, telling authorities he had been following her and harassing her, the outlet said.
The teen described how Hussain called her about 8 p.m. the night before and “told me that he would kill me if I did not talk to him.”
“I informed my father about the threat after which he assured me that he would talk to the man’s family on Tuesday,” she told cops, according to the Mirror.
She then described waking up to “a sensation of pain on my back” and “could smell something burning.”
“I found [Hussain] running away when I opened my eyes,” she told authorities.
Two videos of Singh in the hospital have since gone viral online, causing uproar in India. She suffered burns to 45% of her body.
The teen’s father, Sanjeev Singh, confirmed that Hussain lived in their neighborhood. He said the man’s unwanted attention sometimes forced his daughter to miss school.
“Shahrukh used to tell her— ‘marry me, accept Islam, else I will make your life hell,’” he told Swarajya magazine.
“He kept on forcing my daughter to marry and convert for months. He was a one-sided lover, a stalker.”
Police arrested Hussain and an accomplice last week. Both men are reportedly facing murder charges.
Singh’s death sparked outrage across Hindu-majority Jharkhand.
Amber Lakra, the police superintendent of Dumka, told the BBC that while the crime is not considered religious in nature, “[police] are being especially vigilant as the boy and girl belong to different religions.”
In the days following Singh’s death, several politicians took to social media to express their disgust at the Hussain’s actions.
“After the crafty meted out to Ankita, her death has made every Indian bow their heads in shame,” Rahul Gandhi, a leader in the Indian National Congress and prominent advocate for women’s rights, tweeted Tuesday.
“Today there is a dire need to create a safe environment for women in the country.”
Mithilesh Kumar Thakur, a politician in Jharkhand, urged the public not to assign undue blame to the killer’s religion.
“The criminal has neither any caste nor any religion,” he tweeted Monday.
“He is cruel, unrighteous, impure and inferior. The killer of daughter Ankita should be near the noose soon…Our government will make all such legal efforts.”
Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the historically Hindu nationalist arm of the Indian government, met with Singh’s family this week, promising financial support.
But while the government has promised appropriate justice will be served, Singh’s loved ones remain paralyzed by grief.
Described by relatives as caring and a hard-worker, Singh was in Class 12 at school at the time of her death.
After losing her mother to cancer a year and a half ago, Singh lived at home with her father, grandparents, and younger brother.
“She wanted to get a government job so that she could help her father support the family,” her grandmother, Vimla Devi, told BBC Hindi.
“After her mother’s death, she took good care of her younger brother. She was a very sensitive girl.”
The tragedy of Singh’s case is compounded by the fact that it is far from an isolated incident. According to one 2020 study, one stalking case is reported to Indian authorities every 55 minutes.
Earlier this year, The Indian Express also reported troubling new statistics that nearly one-third of Indian women experienced physical or sexual trauma.
This spring, the Post reported on a similar wave of outrage in the country after a 13-year-old girl who reported being gang raped in Uttar Pradesh was assaulted a second time by a police officer assigned to her case.
“If police stations are not safe for women, then where will they go to take complaints?” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the General Secretary of the Indian National Congress, tweeted at the time.
Since 2018, assaults on children under 12 have been punishable by death. Under India’s penal code, the perpetrators in Singh’s case could also face the death penalty.