A gang of men and including one police officer allegedly raped and killed two sisters in rural India before leaving their bodies to hand from a tree told authorities.
Villagers found the girls, aged 14 and 15, 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.
Upon the discovery of the girl’s bodies, throngs of villagers crowded around the tree silently protesting alleged police inaction in the case.
The incident comes despite India tightening 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 in 2012 of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in New Delhi that triggered nationwide protests.
In this latest incident, 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.
Conflicting reports have told police arrested four men later that day and were searching for three more suspects.
Some reports said a police officer was among those arrested. Others said two were detained.
It was also reported that just one person had been apprehended.
Katra is about 300 kilometers (180 miles) southwest of the state capital, Lucknow.
Police Superintendent Atul Saxena would confirm that the girls had been gang-raped and strangled before being hanged.
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.
Records show a rape is committed every 22 minutes in India, a nation of 1.2 billion people.
The Asian Center for Human Rights published a report last year revealing that 48,338 child rape cases were recorded in India from 2001 to 2011. The annual number of reported cases rose 336% over that period.
Activists say that 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.
‘Boys will be boys,‘ Mulayam Singh Yadav said. ‘They make