The family of a ten-year-old girl who was detained after complaining she had been raped by a neighbour is under police protection amid claims that she will be stoned to death if they do not withdraw the allegation.

Dean Nelson

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi

2:30PM BST 11 Apr 2013

The young Dalit girl’s overnight detention, alone in a cell in a special women’s police station, has caused growing anger throughout India as it seeks to improve security for women following the gang rape and murder of a Delhi student last December.

Four officers from the Kotwali women’s police station near Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh were suspended pending an investigation after an Indian television crew which happened to be in the station filmed the girl behind bars.

She had gone to the police station with her mother who had found her unconscious in a field after, she said, a 35-year-old higher caste neighbour had raped her.

The girl is from one of four poor Dalit or “untouchable” families in a village dominated by higher caste Lodhe Rajputs. Since making the complaint they have been under intense pressure from village elders to drop the claim and accept a “settlement” instead.

In an interview with the Indian Express, the girl’s mother said the family had been warned they would be killed if they did not back down. “They have been threatening to kill us, burn down our ancestral home and stone my daughter to death if we do not withdraw the rape case. Even the village panchayat (council), including the sarpanch (leader), is in favour of the accused and is asking the family to settle the matter,” she was quoted as saying.

Additional Superintendent of Police Vaibhav Krishna, who has been appointed to head an inquiry into why the girl was jailed, said two constables and a sub-inspector had been posted outside the family’s home after two relatives of the accused abused them in the street.

He was not aware of any threat to stone the girl, he said, but had put the family under police protection to avoid any further confrontations.

He said the girl had been detained in a cell because of a “misunderstanding” and an investigation into the decision was continuing.

“I feel very sad for the victim, we feel sorry she had to undergo such a trauma but it was not intentional,” he said.

The family believes it was an attempt to intimidate them into dropping the rape allegation.

SP Krishna said a villager had been arrested for the alleged rape, but he said the man denied the allegation and said the girl had been terrified after he scolded her for picking tomatoes from a neighbour’s field.

“The girl was terrified, ran away and she said that he had misbehaved with her,” he said.

A medical examination had been inconclusive and had not confirmed a sexual assault, he added.

Ranjana Kumari, a leading women’s rights campaigner, said the detention of the girl highlighted the obstacles to justice for poor women in rural areas. “In spite of laws being in place, there is no justice. It shows how atrocities against women are neglected and the victims are victimized,” she said.