Indian police have launched a manhunt for men suspected in the rape and killing of three sisters, aged six to 11, in the latest case of sexual violence to grip India.
The sisters’ bodies were found in a village well in Maharashtra state after they had gone missing from school on Feb 14 said police officer Javed Ahmed. Postmortem results confirmed each of them had been sexually assaulted. The girls were aged six, nine and 11.
The area is more than 1,000km south of New Delhi, the capital.
When officers found the three girls’ bodies on Saturday, with their school bags and shoes in a well near Murmadi, two miles from their home in Lakhni village, they initially recorded their deaths as accidental.
Villagers in Maharashtra protested that police had failed to act after the girls’ grandfather reported them missing last week.
Enraged villagers blocked a national road passing through the area for several hours demanding justice.
The fatal gang rape of a young woman in a moving bus in New Delhi on Dec 16 set off nationwide protests about India’s treatment of women. Five men are being tried on rape and murder charges.
“The police did not take the case seriously and did nothing for two days,” the mother, a widow of five years, told the CNN-IBN television news channel.
One police officer has been suspended for not acting promptly, Indian heavy industries minister Praful Patel told reporters in New Delhi.
“It is unacceptable. All of us have to hang our heads in shame,” Mr Patel said.
Supt Aarti Singh, a female officer, said: “We have a few leads and we are working on them. There was delay because the mother was in a state of shock, she didn’t speak at all. We are trying to join the dots from her statement.”
Civil Surgeon R B Chahande said: “All we know is sexual assault did take place. We will have to wait for the forensic report to guess the exact time of assault. The only thing we can say is death wasn’t by drowning.”
The bus gang rape spurred the government to hurry through a new package of laws to protect women.
The gang rape victim and her male friend, who also was badly beaten up in the attack, were dumped naked on the roadside, and the woman died from her injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
A new law enacted by the government has increased the sentences for rape from the existing seven to 10 years to a maximum of 20 years. It also provides for the death penalty in extreme cases of rape.
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