May 30 (Bloomberg) -- Indian police arrested two men and are searching for one more accused of gang raping and killing two girls before hanging their bodies from a tree, the latest incident to ignite a debate about women’s safety in the country.
A police officer was fired and another is being questioned for failing to investigate after the children had gone missing for four hours, according to Man Singh Chauhan, a senior police officer in Budaun district in Uttar Pradesh state in northern India. The cousins, 13 and 15, were found in a mango orchard near their home on May 27, Chauhan said.
“We are confident that the third accused will be arrested by this evening,” Chauhan said in a phone interview.
The attack is the latest to draw attention to the scale of sexual violence against women in the world’s largest democracy. Even after the enactment of new laws imposing stricter penalties and establishing fast-track courts, India is struggling to tame violent and chauvinistic attitudes that leave ordinary women vulnerable to harassment and rape.
An autopsy confirmed that the girls had been gang raped and strangled to death before being hung, Chauhan said. Police are now taking DNA samples from the victims to establish the identity of the men who raped them when they went into a field to defecate, he said.
Local television channels showed crowds of villagers beneath the swinging bodies. The villagers barred local police from accessing the bodies until arrests were made amid allegations that the head constable and another officer were not taking the matter seriously, Chauhan said.
The attack took place about 275 kilometers northwest of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state that is also among its poorest. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of kidnappings and abductions of women in India, according to police records.
India toughened laws on sexual assault, criminalizing stalking and voyeurism and allowing for capital punishment if an attack leaves the victim in a vegetative state. The new laws came after nationwide protests over the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in New Delhi in December 2012.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party that runs Uttar Pradesh, drew criticism from political rivals and women’s rights activists who accused him of trivializing sexual violence during the election campaign last month by saying he opposed a bill calling for gang rapists to be executed.
“Should we be giving boys the death penalty for rape?” Yadav said. “Boys make mistakes.”
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