Caste discrimination and the ingrained complacency of local authorities towards sexual violence have played a part in the appalling rape and murder of two girls in a village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh

LUCKNOW – In a horrific case, two cousins were found by local villagers on Wednesday May 18, hanging from a mango tree in the orchard near their family home. A relative of the two girls raised the alarm on Tuesday night after being threatened by the three brothers while witnessing the abduction. An autopsy confirmed that the two girls, in their early teens, had been gang raped and hanged.

The bodies were soon surrounded by crowds of locals, who refused to allow authorities to take them down until police mounted a response and suspects were arrested. It is strongly suspected that the caste of the victims and their family played a role in the apathetic police response. The initial report of the attack was ignored by police officers, who have now been arrested for charges of negligence and conspiracy in the attack. The three brothers who are suspected to have committed the murder have also been put under arrest. Both police officers and suspects belong to the dominant Yadav caste and the victims to the Dalit community.

The attack, which is only the latest in a series of recent high profile outbreaks of sexual violence in India, has led to outrage both in the local community and nationwide. An appalling case of gang rape and fatal assault on a bus in Delhi in 2012 lead to an international outcry, protests across India, and eventually several new laws on sexual assault. Candlelit vigils were held in New Delhi in protest against the crime.

This indifferent attitude to violence against women is not only observed at the local level. The response of the Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, responsible for governing the state of Uttar Pradesh, has stunned and incensed people further. When being questioned about the case, he responded, “You are safe, aren’t you?” When his father was asked about the punishment of rapists, he commened, “Boys do make such mistakes”.

After three days and continued criticism by both opposition parties and local people, the Chief Minister eventually decided to have suspects tried in ‘fast-track’ courts and recommend a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, as was requested by those close to the victims. India’s welfare minister, Maneka Gandhi, has planned to set up a ‘rape crisis cell’ meant to ensure a more rapid response to cases of sexual violence. She has also called for all police officers involved to be dismissed.

Alexander Smith, Correspondent (Asia: South)

Image Courtesy: Prateek Dubey, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported | Wikimedia Commons