As outrage grows in India over the gang rape and murder of two Dalit teenagers found hanging from a tree, India's new government said it is planning to set up a special crisis unit to ensure justice for victims of sex attacks.
Aides to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanded a report on the gang rape and murder of the two "untouchable" cousins, aged 14 and 15, who were found hanging from a mango tree in Katra village, near Budaun.
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Outcry in India over brutal gang-rape
After a gruesome gang-rape and hanging of two teenagers in India, one local says "the accused should be found hanging in the same manner."
Mukul Goel, a senior police officer, said it had still not been determined whether the victims had committed suicide or been hanged as a way of silencing them.
In a further example of how women from India's "untouchable" caste are easy targets for rapists, the mother of a 14-year-old who was kidnapped and raped earlier this year has said she wishes her daughter had been killed, too.
Brimti Ram, 40, had been living in a form of slavery with her Dalit family in Bagana village, about 160 kilometres miles from the capital, Delhi, when her daughter and three friends were seized by five relatives and neighbours of their feudal landlord.
They later revealed that they had been drugged and raped throughout the night.
She, her husband, Lila Ram, and their five children farm 20 acres of rice and barley fields, without pay, in a futile attempt to service a $14,000 generational debt that they can never pay off.
Many of their fellow villagers live under the same bonded conditions, which are illegal but common in India. Rapes and sexual assaults of Dalits are common but often unreported and violence is frequent.
Brimti Ram said they had been so shamed by their daughter's rape that neither she nor her 16-year-old sister would ever be able to find a husband.
She had heard of the murders of the two Dalit girls in Budaun in Uttar Pradesh and said she could understand the pain of their families, but she wished her daughter had been killed, too.
"Rape is loss of our reputation, livelihood, honour and the end of our future," she said. "If my daughter doesn't get married and suffers her entire life, wouldn't it have been better for her that she had been killed by those beasts?"
Her family is one of more than 80 that fled their village amid death threats from the upper caste Hindus who had already banned them from sending their children to school, visiting the temple, or buying food from their shops. They are now living on a pavement in central Delhi.
"My daughter was a cheerful girl before, but now she’s just silent," she said.
The latest rape and murder of the teenagers has revived anger over the frequency and brutality of assaults.
The unnamed girls were going to the lavatory in a nearby field when they were grabbed by higher caste men from the local Yadav peasant farmer community.
They were last seen by an uncle as they were being led away. When he challenged the men, they threatened him with a gun.
The father of one of the girls said the police had "refused to look for my girl" and that, when he confronted one of the accused at his home, he admitted abducting the girls but refused to release them. They were found hanging from a mango tree the following morning.
The father said the girls would still have been alive if the police had acted immediately. Five men have since been arrested and are now in custody. A "thorough investigation" was under way, police said.
The gang rape, with video of the girls' corpses hanging from the tree and swaying gently in a breeze, was the top story on Friday on India's 24-hour news stations.
But, in just the past few days, Uttar Pradesh has also seen the mother of a rape victim brutally attacked and a 17-year-old girl gang raped by four men.
On Friday, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav snapped at a reporter when asked about the rising number of rape cases in his state: "You are safe, why are you bothered?"
His mocking comments were not a surprise to many in India.
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 by officials.
She called the Chief Minister's comments "a trivialisation of rape".
On Thursday, police arrested three men for brutally attacking the mother of a rape victim after she refused to withdraw her complaint.
The attack, in the town of Etawah, followed the May 11 rape of the woman's teenage daughter. A local man was arrested after the mother filed a complaint with authorities.
Five men – including the father, a brother and a cousin of the man accused in the rape – followed the victim's mother away from her house on Monday and beat her relentlessly, demanding she drop the accusation, said Dinesh Kumar, the town's police superintendent.
The mother was in critical condition in a hospital, with numerous broken bones and internal injuries.
On Wednesday, a 17-year-old woman was attacked in a field and raped by four men in south-western Uttar Pradesh, police said. One man has been arrested.
Veteran women's rights campaigner and Communist leader Brinda Karat said it was not uncommon for Dalits to live in slavery and that rape and sexual violence were a regular feature of it.
Many upper caste young men believed they have "first choice" rights over any Dalit girl they preferred.
As more Dalit children attended school, forbidden mixed caste friendships and romances had developed, which have led to "honour killings".
"Love has become the new battlefield where caste supremacy is being played out in India," she said. "It's an indication of change and assertion by young Dalits."
Telegraph, London; AP