Two sisters from the Dalit or untouchable community, members of the lowest echelon of the Hindu caste system, were raped, strangled and then hanged from a tree in northern India in what appeared to be suicide, police said Thursday, announcing the arrest of six defendants.
The two minor sisters were found hanging from a tree in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh state. In the video, which has been widely shared on social media, the two young women are seen hanging a red dupatta or shawl around their necks together wearing the traditional Indian kurta.
Lakhimpur Kheri police chief Sanjiv Suman explained at a well-attended news conference that a friend of the young women introduced them to three other boys who, after taking them on their motorbikes to a field, raped them.
“First they were forced to have sexual relations against their will,” the agent said, and then the sisters told them they would now have to marry them – defaming their honor – which sparked an argument that led to the murder, he noted .
“The boys killed them by strangling them with the dupatta. Then they called two other boys and… hanged them on a tree,” he said.
The autopsy confirmed that the girls had been raped and strangled.
The discovery of the bodies hanging from a tree sparked violent protests in the area where relatives, neighbors and relatives demanded justice from the police and immediate arrest of the culprits.
Superintendent Suman disclosed that some of the accused were arrested last night and another of them this morning who was supposed to have been shot in the leg while trying to escape.
“All we want is the death penalty for the accused, that’s all,” the victims’ brother told Indian news agency ANI.
Outrage did not take long, many among activists and politicians representing the Dalit community, such as Chandra Shekhar Azad, who accused the police of failing to provide security to women, or former regional government chief Mayawati, who criticized the new leadership of the government.
“Criminals in Uttar Pradesh have no fear because the government’s priorities are wrong,” Mayawati stressed.
Indian authorities have avoided identifying the accused as members of a particular caste or religion, thus avoiding possible communal clashes.
TEN VIOLATIONS A DAY
This case reminded many of what happened in 2014 in Badaun, also in Uttar Pradesh, when two Dalit cousins were found hanging from a tree. Upper caste neighbors were accused of gang-raping, killing and then hanging to make it look like suicide. A highly criticized investigation denied this.
The ancient Hindu caste system divided society by birth into four major groups, in order of purity: Brahmins (priests), Shatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders) and Shudras (servants), which in turn were subdivided into hundreds of subcastes.
At the bottom of this system are the untouchable outcasts, considered impure, who do the hardest work, such as picking up feces by hand. According to the 2011 census, there are about 200 million Dalits in India, 16.6% of the population.
In rural India, dominated by the Hindu caste system, where the highest in the echelon forcefully maintain their position of power, the rape of Dalit women continues to be a means of control and supremacy.
In 2021 alone, 3,889 rapes of untouchables were reported in India, amounting to a dozen sexual abuses per day, according to data from the National Crime Bureau (NCRB).
However, organizations such as the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDN) warn that these figures only show the tip of the iceberg, as many times pressure from upper castes or the police themselves prevents the victim from reporting the violation
IMAGES MAY HARM SENSITIVITIES
??Trigger warning: rape and murder.
Two dalit sisters aged 17 and 15 were found hanging from a tree in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri. Crime has rocked the entire country and people are on the streets demanding justice.#LakhimpurKheri #AajNEWJDekhaKya pic.twitter.com/KbvtuN99HI
— NEWJ (@NEWJplus) September 15, 2022