Police have arrested three people, including a police constable, in connection with the gang rape of two teens found hanging from a tree in a village in Uttar Pradesh, police said Friday.
Indian media reported that two policemen had also been sacked for initially failing to investigate the disappearance of the girls, who were cousins.
The attack on the girls, aged 14 and 15 and from the lowest Dalit (“untouchable”) caste, has once again highlighted India’s poor record on preventing and punishing sexual violence.
Police say they disappeared Tuesday night after going into fields near their home to relieve themselves, since their house has no toilet.
The father of one girl went to the police that night to report them missing, but he said they refused to help.
They were discovered hanging Wednesday morning in the Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state of nearly 200 million people.
Mukul Goel, a senior police officer, told AFP that it had still not been determined whether the victims had committed suicide after being raped or been strung up as a way of silencing them.
“Only a thorough police probe would confirm whether the girls were murdered or they committed suicide,” the officer said.
The attack sparked protests by the girls’ families and other villagers, who accused the police of failing to act after the bodies were found. Television footage showed the villagers – including children – sitting on the ground under the tree in protest, with the girls’ bodies hanging above.
The families belong to the Dalit caste, previously known as “untouchables”, who are considered to be on the lowest rung of India’s deeply entrenched and rigid social hierarchy.
The attacks sparked anger in New Delhi, with scores of students and women’s rights activists chanting slogans such as “End This Rape Culture” and calling on the Uttar Pradesh government to quit at a protest in the capital.
Minorities, poor girls targeted
The attack is the latest to highlight India’s dismal record on preventing sexual violence despite the tougher laws passed after the world was shocked by the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012. Four men took turns raping the girl and torturing her with a metal bar on a bus for more than an hour, leaving her with internal injuries so severe that she died in a Singapore hospital less than two weeks after the attack.
Earlier this year, a 20-year-old girl was gang-raped by 13 men over six hours in West Bengal state on the orders of tribal village elders, who objected to her relationship with a Muslim man. The village headman also allegedly took part in the rape.
A young photojournalist was gang-raped while her male colleague was tied up and beaten in an isolated, overgrown corner of India’s business hub of Mumbai last August.
Foreign tourists have also been raped in India, including a 39-year-old Swiss woman who was gang-raped while camping with her husband in a forest in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in March of last year.
An American tourist was gang-raped by a truck driver and two accomplices in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in April of last year while a local businessman was arrested for allegedly drugging and raping an Irish charity worker.
Hundreds of people took to the streets that same month to protest against police inaction after a 5-year-old girl was abducted, raped and tortured over two days in New Delhi.
Earlier this year a Danish woman was gang-raped over three hours and robbed in New Delhi by seven or eight men.
Tourism figures fell in the three months following the Delhi bus gang-rape, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, with visits by women dropping by 35 percent in that period.
Women’s activist and researcher Ranjana Kumari has urged newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government to make good on its campaign pledge to improve safety for women in India.
“Modi must take a stand and say ‘Enough’ – because the attacks are just getting more and more horrendous,” said Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi.
“Police attitudes and actions have clearly not improved (since the Delhi gang-rape). Men are targeting girls from minority groups, poor girls – and no one cares,” she said.
Modi clinched a landslide victory in general elections this month over the left-leaning Congress, thanks in part to a stunning performance by his right-wing Hindu nationalist party in Uttar Pradesh.
Last month the head of the state’s governing party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, told an election rally in Moradabad that he was opposed to the death penalty for gang rapists.
“Rape accused should not be hanged. Men make mistakes,” he said.
(Geo Urdu with AFP)