THE gang rape and murder of two teenage girls that has triggered national outrage in India should be subject to a federal investigation, a top state official said yesterday.
The move follows the arrest of a third suspect yesterday after the two cousins were found hanging from a tree in Uttar Pradesh, northern India.
The three suspects detained are cousins in their 20s from an extended family. They face murder and rape charges, crimes punishable by the death penalty, said police.
Two other suspects from the same village are also being sought, police said.
Facing growing criticism for a series of rapes, authorities in Uttar Pradesh also arrested two police officers and fired two others on Friday for failing to investigate when the father of one of the teenagers reported the girls missing earlier in the week.
India has a long history of tolerance for sexual violence. But the gang rape and killing of the girls, aged 14 and 15 – which was followed by TV footage showing their corpses hanging from a mango tree – caused outrage. The father who reported the girls missing, Sohan Lal, has demanded a federal investigation.
The victims’ families say it took police more than 12 hours to respond to reports they were missing.
“I don’t expect justice from the state government as state police officers shielded the suspects,” said Lal, a farm labourer who refused to accept a payment for 500,000 rupees ($8,500) offered by the state government as financial help.
He said he would accept no financial assistance until India’s Central Bureau of Investigation takes over the case.
Such payments are common in India, making Lal’s refusal conspicuous and adding to pressure on the state government to react swiftly to his calls for an inquiry.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said he was recommending the Central Bureau of Investigation step in, a move which only the New Delhi government, led by the Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, can approve. Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, visited the families of the two girls yesterday and endorsed the demand for a federal investigation.
“The state has a jungle rule,” said Rita Bahugana, another Congress party leader.
Dozens of members of the All India Democratic Women’s Association marched yesterday through New Delhi, India’s capital, demanding the arrest of the two fugitive suspects and justice for the victims.
“Enough is enough. Women will not tolerate such atrocities any longer,” the protesters chanted.
The girls in the latest incident were attacked in the tiny village of Katra, about 300 kilometres (180 miles) from Lucknow.
They disappeared on Tuesday night after going into fields near their home to relieve themselves.