A gang of men including at least one police officer were alleged to have raped and killed two teenage sisters, aged 14 and 15 respectively, in rural India then hung their bodies from a tree.
Authorities said today that the girls were found hanging in a mango tree hours after they disappeared near their home in Katra village in Uttar Pradesh state.
They had gone into fields because there was no toilet in their home.
Hundreds of angry villagers crowded around the tree for the rest of the day, silently protesting alleged police inaction in the case.
Indian TV footage showed the villagers sitting under the girls’ bodies as they swung in the wind, preventing authorities from taking them down until the suspects were arrested.
Amid conflicting reports, police are believed to have arrested four men later in the day and were searching for three more suspects.
Some reports said one police officer was among those arrested, while others said one even as the report also had it that only one person had been apprehended.
Katra is about 300 kilometers (180 miles) southwest of the state capital, Lucknow.
Autopsies confirmed the girls had been gang-raped and strangled before being hanged, police Superintendent Atul Saxena said.
The villagers accused the chief of the local police station of ignoring a complaint by the girls’ father on Tuesday night when they went missing.
Three policemen have been removed from duty for not registering cases when the girls were reported missing.
The family belongs to the Dalit community, also called ‘untouchables’ and considered the lowest rung in India’s age-old caste system.
India tightened its anti-rape laws last year, making gang rape punishable by the death penalty, even in cases where the victim survives.
The new laws came after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in New Delhi that triggered nationwide protests.
Records show a rape is committed every 22 minutes in India, a nation of 1.2 billion people.
Activists say that the number is low because of an entrenched culture of tolerance for sexual violence, which leads many cases to go unreported.
Women are often pressed by family or police to stay quiet about sexual assault, experts say, and those who do report cases are often subjected to public ridicule or social stigma.
Last month, the head of Uttar Pradesh state’s governing party, the regionally prominent Samajwadi Party, told an election rally that the party was opposed to the law calling for gang rapists to be executed. [myad]