Members of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union shout slogans during a protest against a gang rape of two teenage girls in Katra village, outside the Uttar Pradesh state house, in New Delhi, India, Friday, May 30, 2014.
Warning: This story contains graphic content.
Indian officials have arrested three men, and are searching for two more, in the brutal rape and murder of two teenage cousins in northern India.
The girls, age 14 and 15, were found hanging from a mango tree in the village of Katra in Uttar Pradesh state on Wednesday. An autopsy revealed they had been raped, then strangled. Villagers sat for hours in silent protest under their bodies — one girl was dressed in a flowing green tunic, the other in red — until local authorities made arrests in the case.
Rape victims and their families cannot be identified in the media under Indian law, so we may never know their names.
Two brothers and a police officer have been arrested in the horrific incident, and police are searching for another brother and another police officer, according to R.K.S. Rathore, a senior police officer in the region quoted in The New York Times.
But the victims' families say police were initially slow to respond to the allegations, and the father of one of the victims told the Times that the police chief "took the side of the culprits,” stoking the furor in northern India over what many see as an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in the region. Two police officers have since been fired.
The girls were members of the Dalit community, India’s lowest caste once known as the untouchables, and the father has accused the dominant caste in the region of conspiracy in the crime.
Religious and caste divides have long fractured Indian society, meaning the accusations threaten to further inflame tensions between the classes.
On Friday, members of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union protested the gang rape of the two teenage girls outside the Uttar Pradesh state house in New Delhi, according to the Associated Press.
Last month, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the head of the state's governing party, said he was opposed to a law calling for gang rapists to be executed. "Boys will be boys," he said. "They make mistakes."
India eventually tightened that law, which came after an especially vicious gang rape in New Delhi that left the woman dead, sending Indians streaming into the streets in anger.
According to USA Today, records show a rape in India is committed every 22 minutes, but experts believe that number misrepresents the true rate, as women are encouraged to stay silent by their families in cases of rape and sexual assault.