TWO police officers who failed to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls in India who were gang-raped and later found hanging from a tree have been fired.
The sackings came as the top official in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where the incident took place, mocked journalists for asking about the attack.
“Aren’t you safe? You’re not facing any danger, are you?” Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said in Lucknow, the state capital. “Then why are you worried? What’s it to you?”
A women’s rights leader said the comments “trivialised rape”.
The gang rape, with video of the cousins’ bodies hanging from a mango tree, was the top story on India’s 24-hour news stations.
However, over the past few days, Uttar Pradesh has also seen the mother of a rape victim attacked and a 17-year-old girl gang-raped by four men.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state, with nearly 200 million people.
Official statistics say about 25,000 rapes are committed every year in India, a nation of 1.2 billion people. But activists say that number is very low, since women are often pressed by family or police to stay quiet.
Indian police and politicians have faced growing public anger since the December 2013 gang-rape and murder of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, an attack that sparked outrage over the treatment of women.
The state’s former chief minister has lashed out at the ruling government.
“There is no law and order in the state,” said Mayawati, who uses only one name. “It is the law of the jungle.”
Hours later, the chief minister ordered that suspects in the attack be tried in special “fast-track” courts, to get around India’s slow judicial system.
The girls, who were 14 and 15, were raped in the village of Katra, about 180 miles fromLucknow.
Police say they disappeared on Tuesday night after going into fields near their home to relieve themselves, since their house has no toilet.
The father of one girl went to police that night to report them missing, but he said they refused to help. When the bodies were discovered the next day, angry villagers silently protested over the police inaction by refusing to allow the bodies to be cut down from the tree.
The villagers allowed authorities to take down the bodies after the first arrests were made on Wednesday. Police arrested two police officers and two men from the village, and were searching for three more suspects.
The girls were Dalits, from the community once known as “untouchables” in India’s ancient caste system.
The fired policemen and the men accused in the attack are Yadavs, a low-caste community that dominates that part of Uttar Pradesh. The chief minister is from the same caste.
On Thursday, officials suspended two local police officers for ignoring the father’s pleas for help. They were then fired.
Last month, Mr Yadav’s father – a former chief minister and head of the state’s ruling party – told an election rally that the party opposed a law calling for gang rapists to be executed.
“Boys will be boys,” Mulayam Singh Yadav said. “They make mistakes.”
Kavita Krishnan, a women’s rights activist, said such comments make clear to police that rape is not taken seriously byofficials.
She called the chief minister’s comments “a trivialisation of rape”.