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Indian Police Under Fire as Bodies of 17 Poor Are Found in New Delhi

The bodies of 17 women and children who disappeared over the last two years have been discovered in a house in an upscale suburb of the Indian capital. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the case has triggered public outrage at the failure of police to investigate the disappearances.

The gruesome crime came to light over the New Year weekend, when police found the skeletal remains of 17 people outside a businessman's home in a posh suburban town on the outskirts of New Delhi.

The police believe the victims were lured into the businessman's home by his servant with the promise of sweets, then sexually assaulted and killed. Their dismembered bodies were later stuffed into sacks and dumped into drains.

The businessman and his servant have been arrested and charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering the victims, some of who were as young as five years old.

The dead were mostly children of the poor migrant workers who live in huts and shanties just half a kilometer from the booming town. They had disappeared over the last two years, but their relatives say the police refused to investigate the cases.

Furious residents say police only took action after people found body parts and clothes in a drain behind the businessman's house. An outraged public is accusing the police of failing to act because the victims and their families were poor.

The head of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, Kiran Bedi, says a badly funded police force does tend to ignore the problems of the poor.

"People on the margins actually do not get the attention," she said. "They do not have the power of money or influence, and they do get left out. And whatever resources by the way the police has, because it has got grossly inadequate resources, they go to V.I.P. security, to law and order, and to more high-profile cases and heinous crimes. So preventive policing is a big, big casualty, and so are the poorer sections of society."

Grieving parents say the police refused to follow up on reports of the disappearances, even though one young boy or girl from the shanties would go missing every few weeks. They say a total of 30 children have disappeared, but instead of investigating, the police scolded the parents for failing to take care of their children.

Their grief has now boiled over into anger. The families have thrown stones at the police, and rioted outside the businessman's house.

Their anguish has finally prompted some action. Six officers have been fired for failing to act on the reports of missing children, and the federal government has ordered an investigation into the police handling of the incident.