Two teenagers who were gang-raped and murdered may in fact have been the victims of an honour killing by their own family, police in India have said.
The two girls, cousins aged 14 and 15, were attacked after leaving their home to relieve themselves; they were allegedly gang raped and hung from a mango tree where their bodies were discovered the following morning.
Relatives and villagers have accused the police of being slow to respond to the shocking crime. The two girls were members of the low-caste Dalit community, previously called untouchables. Campaigners say Dalits are often the victims of sexual violence, but police do not take the crimes seriously.
But in a new twist to the case, state officials have said only one of the girls had been raped and suggested that property concerns could be behind the killings, India Today reported.
Speaking at a press conference in Lucknow, Anand Lal Banerjee, the Director General of Police in Uttar Pradesh, said: “Of the two victims, one was the lone child of her parents. Her father is one of three brothers with limited resources and if she was not alive, it could benefit others.
“It could be one of the motive. I am not saying that this is the motive,” he said.
He claimed that important evidence had come to light, which would mean that the five men – including two police officers – arrested in connection with the crime were actually innocent.
“It may be that the crime has another dimension,” Mr Banerjee said.
“Those, who are being talked about, may not be involved. They may be released, but it depends on the investigation. We don't think that one of the victims was raped.
“Two policemen were terminated under immediate circumstances. If there had been any shortcoming then it would be ratified,” he added.
But he said he would not use the term “honour killing” until he could prove it.
However, according to The Indian Express, post mortem reports accessed by the newspaper said that the “perineal findings were suggestive of rape” for both girls.
Dr Rajeev Gupta, who headed the panel of doctors who conducted the post mortems, declined to comment.
Mr Banerjee said that more evidence could have been collected in the immediate aftermath of the incident, but local police failed to act quickly. However, a forensic team was able to gather information.
Following the revelations, police pan to conduct drugs and lie detector tests on the accused in the hope of shedding more light on the case.
But the family of the victims said they were being framed. The father of one of the girls told The Indian Express: “We always knew the police was biased… They are trying to frame our family to save the accused who are all Yadavs. We will leave the village and go to Delhi to fight for justice.”
Around 25,000 people are raped in the 1.2 billion-strong nation each year, according to official statistics. But activists say that number is likely much higher, as women feel pressured to stay silent about sexual assaults.
Indian police and politicians have faced growing public anger against sexual violence in the country after a woman was gang-rape and murdered on a bus in New Delhi December 2012.
India’s politicians have been accused of failing to tackle rape in the country. On Sunday, Ramsevak Paikra, the minister responsible for law and order in India’s central Chhattisgarh state, was urged to apologise after suggested that rape happens “accidentally”.
And last week, Babulal Gaur, of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said that the crime of rape can only be considered to have been committed if it is reported to police.
“This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong,” he said.
“Until there's a complaint, nothing can happen.”
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