India: Police refuse to rescue lower-caste girls who were raped and hanged

The bodies of the cousins, aged 14 and 12, were found swinging from a mango tree in the Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday after going missing the previous night.

The father of one of two gang-rape victims covers his face as he mourns in Katra Shahadatgunj in Badaun in India's Uttar Pradesh state yesterday. Chandan Khanna / AFP
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KATRA SHAHADATGUNJ, India // Police could have saved two teenage cousins who were gang raped and hanged from a tree in northern India last week, but refused because they were from a lower caste, the victims’ relatives said on Saturday.

“These policemen didn’t act for hours when they could have saved two young lives. Why is caste everything?” said the father of one of the girls.

“She was my everything, my world – and now my world has come to an end.”

The bodies of the cousins, aged 14 and 12, were found swinging from a mango tree in the Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday after going missing the previous night.

Medical tests showed the victims had been sexually assaulted multiple times.

“Rape on both the girls has been confirmed. The cause of their death was asphyxia,” said Atul Saxena, the Budaun police superintendent, said on Saturday.

Mr Saxena said cases had been filed against five men who were all in custody. Three are accused of rape while two policemen face charges of conniving with criminals and neglecting their duties.

Two other men were also named in a police complaint filed by the victims’ families but their whereabouts are unknown, he said.

The father said his daughter and her cousin were attacked when they went into the fields as there was no toilet in their house.

He said his brother heard screams from the field where the girls had gone.

The brother got into a scuffle with five men, trying “to get them to leave the daughters who were being molested”, but fled when they threatened to shoot him, he said.

The family reported the crime to police, who told villagers the girls were with an upper caste village man and would be back “in a couple of hours”, the father said.

Then they got a call from a woman saying their daughters’ bodies were hanging from a tree.

“This was nothing but plain murder and conspiracy,” he said.

“The cops were totally hand-in-glove in getting our daughters killed,” said the father of the other victim.

Indian law forbids naming the victims of sexual crimes or their families.

Rahul Gandhi, who led India’s Congress party to a crushing defeat by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in national elections earlier in the month, visited the girls’ families on Saturday.

Mr Gandhi said the families told him they were only interested in “justice” for their daughters, not financial compensation.

With pressure mounting on the state government to act swiftly, Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, said he was recommending to the federal government a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

State officials initially appeared caught off guard by the reaction to the attack on the two girls. On Friday, Mr Yadav mocked journalists for asking about it.

“You’re not facing any danger, are you?” he said in Lucknow, the state capital. “Then why are you worried? What’s it to you?”

The poor farming family of the two cousins come from India’s lowest caste, the Dalits.

There is a long history of women and girls from the lower castes – especially Dalits, who were previously known as “untouchables” – of being sexually abused by people from higher castes.

Uttar Pradesh state is deeply divided along caste lines, and also has a longstanding reputation for lawlessnes.

In one of two other recent rape cases in the state, three men were arrested over the gang rape of a young woman that was later circulated in a video. The other case involved the alleged rape of a deaf-mute teenager by a neighbour.

Rights activists said the crimes highlighted Uttar Pradesh authorities were “not serious” about tackling sexual crime.

The rape and murder of the two cousins case has also stirred nationwide outrage.

India toughened its laws on sex attacks in the wake of the December 2012 gang rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi which triggered nationwide protests, but the move has done little to stem the tide of sex attacks.

The chief of Uttar Pradesh’s ruling party, who is also father of its chief minister, sparked uproar last month when he opposed recent legislation making gang-rapists subject to capital punishment.

“Boys will be boys,” Mulayam Singh Yadav said.

* Agence France-Presse