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3rd Prd 20:00

Two sought in rape, murder of teen girls in India

NEW DELHI — The Indian police said Friday that they were scouring the countryside to find two more men accused in the rape and murder of two teenage girls in an Indian village this week, an attack that threatened to stir angry passions against the dominant caste in the area.

Police have already arrested two brothers and a police officer in the case. But another brother of the two accused and another police officer are being sought, said R.K.S. Rathore, a senior police officer.

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“This is a very serious and unfortunate incident,” Rathore said. “We are making all-out efforts to arrest the other two accused.”

The two girls, cousins ages 15 and 14, were found dead Wednesday, their bodies hanging from mango trees in Katra Shadat Ganj, a village in the Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh state. An autopsy confirmed they had been raped and strangled, the chief of the district police said.

Uttar Pradesh, like much of India, is deeply split along religious and caste lines and has been prone to mob violence, often in reaction to sensational or violent crimes by one group against another. On Friday, the father of one of the victims accused the alleged perpetrators and local police officers, all of whom are from the region’s dominant caste, of being involved in a conspiracy to rape and murder the girls — explosive allegations in such a place.

Under Indian law, neither the girls nor the father may be named in news reports.

Charges of rape leveled by a low-caste father can have deep resonance here, as for centuries upper-caste Hindus could attack, rape or even murder those in low castes with impunity. Known victims of rape are often ostracized by their families and villages, so for years many rapes were kept quiet and never reported.

That has changed somewhat during the past 18 months, after an especially vicious gang rape in New Delhi in December 2012 prompted a nationwide campaign to persuade women who have been assaulted to go to police.

Also Friday, the site of the murder became something of a media circus, with vans from India’s robust TV news industry parked beside the mango trees. Politicians from the region also descended on the town, promising to promote justice, said Kamal Kant Tiwari, a village politician.

The father, a 45-year-old agricultural laborer from a low-ranking caste, said in a telephone interview that the two girls were last seen alive Tuesday evening in a mango orchard, in the company of a man named Pappu Yadav. (The man’s surname is the same as his caste.)

The father said a relative saw the girls with Yadav and two of Yadav’s brothers and that, for reasons he did not explain, the relative tried to intervene between Yadav and the girls.

One of the Yadav brothers pulled out a pistol “and put it to the head of my cousin-brother,” the father said, using a common term in India for a close relative. “He got scared and ran away.”

When he heard what had happened, the father said, he went to the local police station and asked that Yadav’s house be searched.

But the police officers, who are members of the Yadav caste, “took the side of the culprits,” the father said. “They abused and misbehaved with us.”

The next morning, when the two girls were found dead, a crowd of angry villagers gathered at the scene, accusing the police of complicity in the crime and blocking them from taking away the bodies. Calm was not restored until the early evening, after the police agreed to arrest the Yadav brothers and two police officers.

Udai Raj Singh, the chief government official in the district, said four suspects had been arrested, including one of the officers; the other officer “is absconding,” Singh said.

Another politician in the village, Kamal Kant Tiwari, said Yadav’s family was new to the area and that few residents knew what to make of the allegations.

“We know that some scuffle took place with those boys and the uncle of the girls,” he said of the encounter Tuesday evening. “What happened after that is not very clear.”

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