India gang-rape: Family of murdered girls say local police are trying to frame them

Police chief says property dispute may been behind killings - but one girl's brother says family owned a tiny patch of land 'too small' to fight about

Delhi

The family of two girls said to have been gang-raped and hanged from a tree say local police are trying to frame them and have called for India’s federal investigative agency to lead the probe into the deaths.

The bodies of the two cousins, Murti and Pushpa, were discovered hanging from a mango tree on the edge of their village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh after they went missing two weeks ago. Police initially said the two low-caste girls had been assaulted by three men from the dominant caste and that local constables had refused to help search for them.

But at the weekend, the head of the state police claimed that the officers may have been wrong and said post-mortem examinations which showed both girls had been raped might not be trustworthy. He claimed he wanted to administer “truth drug” narcotics and lie detector tests to everyone involved in the case, including the family of the girls.

“From our investigations so far, we are suspecting there could be a different motive to the murders, and the crime is of a different nature,” UP police chief Anand Lal Banerjee told reporters in the state capital, Lucknow. He said that a property dispute may have played a role in what happened. “I will not use the term honour killing now before I can prove it.”

 

The comments of Mr Banerjee came as it was announced around 100 police and civil servants in UP were being transferred in the aftermath of the attack. Among those suspended is Atul Saxena, the local police chief who had told the families that the post-mortems had concluded both girls were raped and that they were alive when they were hanged. Neither Mr Banerjee or Mr Saxena could be contacted.

The attack on the two girls, believed to be aged between 12 and 14, sparked outrage and shock across India and led to widespread allegations that the authorities in UP and elsewhere were doing insufficient to protect women.

The family of the two girls, who went missing after they had gone to the fields to relieve themselves, believe the state authorities are now trying to protect themselves amid the welter of criticism.

On Monday, Murti’s brother, Veerendar, said it was essential the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) take over the investigation into the deaths. He said he would travel from their village of Katra Sadatganj to Delhi and launch a protest if it was the only way of ensuring this.

“The family is shattered. It’s a difficult time. I am sitting on a protest demonstration. All I ask for is justice,” he told The Independent by phone. “They are offering me employment in a government office if I withdraw my demand for a CBI investigation.”

He said the family, who are agricultural labourers, only owned a tiny patch of land, “too small” to fight about. He added: “It’s nothing but a heinous crime. No excuse for it.”

A number of politicians and campaigners have backed the family’s demand for an independent inquiry. Prince Lenin, a Lucknow-based lawyer, has filed a petition with the Allahabad High Court calling for the CBI to called in. The court is due to consider the case on Wednesday.

“The CBI should handle the case as the local police were involved,” he said. “The state government is trying to cover this up for their own motives.”

The attack on the girls exposed several of the grim realties of life for hundreds of millions of India living in rural India.

The girls’ family belonged to a caste located almost at the very bottom of the traditional Hindu social structure. By contrast, the three brothers accused of attacking them and the two police officers accused of failing to investigate, belong to the yadav caste. The family said the police abused them when they reported the girls missing.

While technically a lower caste itself, across large parts of northern India yadavs are often dominant. In UP, the party that runs the state government, teh Samajwadi Party, gets much of its support from yadavs and the father and son team who head it belong to that caste.

The relatives of the two girls, who lived as part of an extended family in simple shacks, said the cousins had gone missing after they left home at around 7pm to go the fields to relieve themselves. Like an estimated 620m Indians, the family had no proper lavatory and were obliged to participate in open defecation.

Campaigners say an absence of proper sanitation not only create health problems, especially for women, but leaves them them open to assault and harassment. They have also shown how lower-caste families, especially Dalits, or those groups that were once called untouchables, are less likely to have access to a proper toilet.

The charity WaterAid’s survey of almost 10,000 Dalit households found that around 25 per cent of women had been insulted or humiliated when practising open defecation. A total of 22 per cent had been abused about their caste and 6 per cent had been sexually harassed.

“The terrible and tragic story of these two girls in India is part of a much wider crisis,” said WaterAid’s chief executive, Barbara Frost. “One in every three women around the world lacks a toilet that meets even basic standards and half-a-billion women and girls have no choice but to relieve themselves in the open each and every day.”

Additional reporting Anagha Kinjavadekar

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