The National Commission of Women (NCW) on Monday blamed the provincial police in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state for its involvement in a grisly case in which two teenage girls were gang-raped and were found hanging from a tree.
Officials say five men have been arrested in connection with the rape of two girls, 14- and 15-year-old cousins, who went missing May 27 after going to a field to relieve themselves because their homes have no toilets.
Two police officers, being held on suspicion of attempting to cover up the crime, were among the five.
Villagers in the Buduan district found the girls' bodies hanging from a mango tree May 28. Autopsies revealed the girls had been sexually assaulted and died from the hanging, Reuters reported.
On Monday, NCW chief Mamta Sharma alleged the police were the real culprits in the case and demanded their suspension.
The way Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav "suspended or terminated a constable, he should also suspend superintendent of police and senior superintendent of police in the same manner because such an atrocious and shameful incident has happened where the girls were gang-raped and then hanged, I feel that the entire fault is of the police," said Sharma in New Delhi.
Four of the five suspects arrested in the case are from the powerful Yadav community, a land-owning Hindu caste that holds political sway in Uttar Pradesh. Police declined to confirm reports that three had confessed, Reuters reported.
The victims were from a lowly caste. They were Shakyas, by tradition peasant farmers who are often vulnerable to exploitation by the Yadavs.
Accusations against police
The victim's families alleged the local police were shielding the attackers as they refused to take action when the girls were first reported missing.
Newly-appointed Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi said "police laxity" is equally responsible for the girls' deaths and that "all policemen involved in the case should be dismissed." Gandhi said she plans to set up a "rape crisis cell" to ensure swift justice for victims.
Also Monday, police used water cannons to disperse hundreds of women who were protesting against a rise in violence against women in the northern Indian state where two teenagers were killed last week.
The protesters in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state, were demonstrating outside the office of the top elected official, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, demanding that he crack down on an increasing number of rape and other attacks on women and girls.
Hundreds of police officers, including female officers, pushed and shoved the protesters before deploying water cannons to disperse them.
The protesters also demanded that the government curb police indifference, which they said was encouraging attacks on women.
India has a long history of tolerance of sexual violence, but the attack on the girls has caused outrage across the nation.
Activists and ordinary people said it was as if nothing had changed since the December 2012 fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman aboard a moving bus in New Delhi, India's capital, the AP reported.
The nationwide outcry following that attack led the federal government to push through legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalizing voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.
The law also makes it a crime for officers to refuse to register cases when complaints are made.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.