The victim was first raped on January 29 this year, said Dinkar Munke, a junior officer with the Mandape police in the city of Dombivli, which neighbors Mumbai in Maharashtra state.
The rape was filmed, with the video then used to blackmail her repeatedly for the next eight months, said Munke. She was allegedly raped by 33 perpetrators in total, including two teenagers, with the abuse lasting until this week.
When her family — which had so far had no idea what was happening — found out, they brought the victim to the police station on Wednesday and filed a complaint, Munke told CNN on Friday.
The 26 men were arrested under the country’s penal code, and separately under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) law, which has more severe sentences of longer jail time.
Dombivli police are still looking for the remaining seven men who have also been accused.
Since the 2012 protests, when millions of women called for stronger laws and protections for women, the government has introduced new legislation and tougher penalties. But, activists say, the problem persists, fueled by difficulties in reporting, poor enforcement by authorities, deeply rooted gender inequality and caste discrimination.
Reported rapes have increased over the years, potentially because of a greater awareness surrounding the issue. More than 32,000 were recorded in 2019, up from 25,000 in 2012. But many rapes go unreported, meaning the real number may be much higher.
The recent string of rapes in Mumbai has prompted police to announce new measures. Police will install women’s safety cells in every police station in the city, and deploy patrolling vehicles in hotspots for crimes against women, police announced on September 14.
Other measures will include creating a sexual offenders’ list dating back five years, and requiring officers to undergo training in dealing with sexual assault victims, complete with an exam before they join the force.
Dozens of men arrested in India accused of gang raping 15-year-old girl repeatedly