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Anger in India after bodies of minor Dalit sisters found hanging from tree

Police say six accused have been arrested in connection with the case

Sravasti Dasgupta
Thursday 15 September 2022 11:17 BST
(RELATED) Outrage ignites in India as group of rapists freed from prison for ‘good behaviour’

The rape and murder of two minor Dalit girls in Uttar Pradesh has sparked outrage across the country after the sisters were found hanging from a tree in the northern Indian state’s Lakhimpur Kheri district on Wednesday.

On Thursday, police said that six accused have been arrested in connection with the case and charged under sections of India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012.

“Six suspects have been arrested in the gangrape-murder of two minor Dalit sisters found hanging from a tree. Postmortem in the presence of the victim’s family is underway,” Lakhimpur superintendent of police Sanjiv Suman told reporters.

India’s 200 million Dalits, formerly untouchables, are placed on the lowest rung of an ancient caste hierarchy, and are often the targets of discrimination though the country abolished untouchablity in 1955.

The incident comes two years after the gangrape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in the state’s Hathras district brought national and international condemnation for prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is in power in Uttar Pradesh.

The state administration under chief minister Yogi Adityanath faced criticism for handling of the attack in which four upper caste men were accused.

There was nationwide outrage over the police’s swift cremation of the victim’s body, their heavy-handed approach with protesters, and their attempts to block opposition politicians from meeting with the victim’s family.

On Thursday Lakhimpur Kheri police said that two girls had been raped before they were murdered.

“All the accused and the girls belong to the same village. Chotu, son of Chetram, was known to the girls in the past and he was the one who had introduced the girls to three of the accused. Later, when the girls started forcing them for marriage, the accused strangulated and hanged them,” said Lakhimpur Kheri SP Sanjay Kumar was quoted as saying to The Indian Express.

Apart from Chotu alias Gautam, the other accused have been identified as Junaid, Suhail, Hafizul Rehman, Karimuddin and Arif, police said.

“Junaid was arrested following an encounter on Thursday morning and he has a gunshot injury in one of his legs,” Mr Kumar said.

According to the victim’s family, the two girls were dragged away by the accused around 3pm on Wednesday.

The victim’s mother said that she was taking a bath when she heard Chotu, who frequents their area, calling her daughters. Soon, three boys came and started dragging her daughters away.

“I tried to stop them and ran behind them, but they beat me up and left. I shouted and ran back to seek help from the villagers,” she was quoted as saying.

The girls’ father has demanded the death penalty for the accused.

As the news of the girls’ death spread, locals staged a protest and blocked a road in the village.

The blockade was lifted after senior police officials promised strict action against the guilty.

While the state government has promised action, the opposition has hit out at prime minister Narendra Modi’s BJP for lawlessness in the state.

“The Lakhimpur incident is sad and unfortunate. Harshest action to be taken against all criminals. I would expect the Opposition, whether Akhilesh Yadav, Priyanka Gandhi or Mayawati that instead of politicising, they console the family. But the rule of law has prevailed in Uttar Pradesh,” deputy chief minister KP Maurya was quoted as saying to ANI.

Rahul Gandhi, opposition lawmaker from the Congress party, referred to the recent remission and release of 11 convicts in a gangrape and murder case and said: “The kidnapping and murder of two minor Dalit sisters in Lakhimpur in broad daylight is a very disturbing incident.”

“Women’s safety cannot be expected from those who get the rapists released and respect them. We have to create a safe environment in the country for our sisters and girls.” The 11 men convicted of gang-raping Muslim woman Bilkis Bano and murdering her child during one of the country’s worst communal riots in Gujarat state in 2002 were granted remission after having served a 15-year sentence.

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati accused the state’s Yogi Adityanath government of misgovernance.

“This incident strongly exposes the claims of the government in the matter of law and order and women’s safety etc. in UP,” Mayawati tweeted.

“In the cases of such heinous crimes including Hathras, most of the criminals are fearless because of the veil.”

Wednesday’s incident is a stark reminder of the death of two cousin sisters in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun who were raped and found hanging from a tree in 2014.

According to federal government data released last week, crimes against women in India increased by 15 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report showed that Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of crimes against women in 56,083 cases last year.

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