Police in India arrested four men, including two police officers, Wednesday for gang-raping and killing two teenage sisters.
Residents of the rural village of Katra found the girls’ bodies hanging from a tree in the fields outside the village Wednesday morning. The girls were 14 and 15 years old, police Superintendent Atul Saxena told The Associated Press. He said that the girls had gone into the fields because they had no toilet in their home.
Hundreds of people gathered around the tree later in the day, refusing to cut the bodies down until police arrested suspects. Villagers accused the local police chief of ignoring reports from the girls’ father Tuesday that they had gone missing. The chief has been suspended.
The arrests of the four men occurred later in the day Wednesday. Subsequent autopsies confirmed that the girls had been gang-raped and strangled before being hanged.
The gruesome case underscores a severe rape problem plaguing India, a nation of 1.2 billion people. Studies have indicated that a rape is committed in the country every 22 minutes. Activists say that number is low because of a culture that tolerates sexual violence and stigmatizes women who report crimes of sexual assault.
Last year India passed new laws that broadened the definitions of sexual crimes and carried stricter sentences for rapists. Those laws came as the result of nationwide protests following the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman on a New Delhi bus. The new sentencing guidelines allow for those convicted of multiple rapes and gang-rape to be put to death.
Kamla Bhasin, an activist with Sangat, a South Asian feminist network in Delhi, told Women’s eNews when the laws were passed that she welcomed the broadened definitions of sexual crimes.
"The bill has made some huge improvements. By making stalking and voyeurism punishable for the first time, the law has recognized insidious forms of sexual violence against women. This is a big step forward,” she said.
Bhasin added, however, that cultural attitudes towards women are what really need to change.
“The law is necessary. But laws alone cannot bring lasting change. Society needs to change their patriarchal attitude towards women … We need to keep pursuing multi-pronged efforts to sensitize both men and women," she said.
That change may be slow in coming for rural India. Last month Mulayam Singh Yadav, the head of the governing party for Uttar Pradesh state — the state where Katra village is located — said that he opposed the death penalty for gang-rapists.
"Boys will be boys," Yadav declared. "They make mistakes.”