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GUWAHATI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Authorities on Thursday set up a special investigation team to probe the alleged gang rape and murder of a woman which has triggered days of protests in Assam, evoking memories of the fatal assault on a woman on a bus almost a year ago.
Thousands of protesters have for the past five days taken to the streets and blocked major highways, calling for police to investigate the death of the 31-year-old woman in Assam's Lakhimpur district.
The incident occurred when the woman hired an auto-rickshaw to pick up her daughter from school on Nov 22. Initial reports said she had been gang raped by four men and had her eyes gouged out before she was thrown out onto the road and left to die.
Police however said a post-mortem report showed that there was no sign of sexual assault and that the woman had died of injuries sustained to the head. They said they had arrested one man in relation to the case.
"There is no prima facie evidence of rape," said P.K. Bhuyan, police chief of Lakhimpur district.
An official from the National Commission for Women (NCW) said it was reminiscent of the high profile gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist on December 16 which led to massive public protests over rising crimes against women across urban India.
"This heinous act reminds us of the Nirbhaya episode," said Nirmala Samant, NCW member, refering to the pseudonym meaning 'fearless' in Hindi which was given to the Delhi gang rape victim who had fought her six attackers as they assaulted her.
"A year has not yet passed, and now, a similar incident has happened," Samant added.
Statistics showed that 244,270 crimes against women were reported to the police in 2012, against 228,650 in 2011, according to the National Crimes Records Bureau.
These include rapes, kidnappings, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also include instances in which women are driven to suicide as a result of demands for a dowry from their husbands or in-laws.