India: Investigation after teenage sisters ‘raped and hanged from a tree’

Two teenage sisters have been found hanging from a tree in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in a suspected case of rape and murder.

Police said the bodies were found on Wednesday afternoon in Lakhimpur district. They have started an investigation after the family alleged the girls had been kidnapped and raped.

Six men have been arrested on charges of rape and murder.

The bodies have been sent for a post mortem examination, police said.

An angry crowd at the tree in Uttar Pradesh where the teenage sisters were found hanged after both were reportedly abducted and raped

The girls, both below 18, belonged to the Dalit caste at the bottom of a deeply discriminatory Hindu hierarchy.

Despite constitutional protections, the community routinely faces prejudice and violence - a 2020 case involving the gang rape and murder of a 19-year Dalit woman in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras district sparked a public outcry, spotlighting how vulnerable Dalit women were.

Police said the girls knew the accused but the family denied this and said they were abducted.

Local media reported that the girls' mother said the pair had been taken by men on motorcycles. She says she was attacked when she tried to stop them.

The family said they began looking for the girls and eventually found them hanging from a tree.

District police chief Sanjeev Suman said the girls were taken to a sugarcane field where they were raped and strangled to death.

"The accused then hanged their bodies from the tree to make it look like suicide," Mr Suman added, according to NDTV channel.

One of the accused was arrested when he was trying to escape, police said.

According to local media, the police met with some resistance when they went to the girls' home on Wednesday night, where locals had joined the family in protest.

There is deep suspicion of the police among the Dalit community. Authorities were accused of apathy and of protecting the upper caste accused following the assault in Hathras. The victim's family also alleged that she had been cremated without giving them a chance to say goodbye.

Uttar Pradesh, in Indian's north, is the country's most populated state with over 200 million people - and has a record of violence against women and Dalits.

Critics say that despite all the coverage and new anti-rape laws - there is no sign that crimes against women are abating in India.

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