Two teenage girls were found hanging from a tree in a northern village after they had been gang-raped by five men, police said Thursday, in the latest attack highlighting India’s poor record on preventing and punishing sexual violence.
Police have arrested at least one man in connection with the attack on the cousins, girls aged 14 and 15 and from the lowest Dalit (“untouchable”) caste.
The girls had walked into a field to go to the toilet because they didn’t have one in their home when they were attacked, local media reported. They were discovered hanging Wednesday morning in the Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh state.
A post-mortem report indicated the cousins had hanged themselves late Tuesday after being attacked, police said.
“The report suggests ante-mortem hanging, which means the girls probably committed suicide. But we will take into account all aspects before coming to a conclusion,” Atul Saxena, the police chief of Budaun, told AFP.
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.
Saxena said police had arrested one suspect after the girls’ relatives registered a complaint against five men for gang-rape, murder and child sexual abuse.
“A team of around 50 police officers is on the lookout for the absconding accused,” he added. Saxena could not confirm the exact ages of the attackers, but said they were in their “late teens”.
Local police officers have also been suspended from duty for their initial apathy over the crime, he said.