2 teenage girls left their house on Tuesday evening and never returned

Trigger warning: This post deals with child rape and other forms of violence against women, and may be distressing for some readers.

Two teenage girls left their house on Tuesday evening and never returned.

The cousins – just 14 and 15 – had ventured from their home in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to visit the toilet. But outside in the darkness, something went terribly wrong.

The girls encountered a pack of five men and were brutally gang-raped and strangled. The next morning, their swinging bodies were found hanging from a tree in a local orchard by local villagers. There are now conflicting reports about what happened to the girls: was this suicide or did their attackers return?

The tale is beyond tragic but the men’s sickening treatment of the girls isn’t the only shocking aspect of the story. Further reports indicate the suspects in this case include police officers and that local police may have had a hand in covering up what happened; protecting the perpetrators.

Al Jazeera reports that authorities say at least two police officers are counted among the suspects. The victims’ families claim local police have been shielding the attackers, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

teenagers gang raped india
The tree in Uttar Pradesh where the two girls were found hanging. (Photo via Al Jazeera)

The families also allege local police refused to take action when the girls were first reported missing.

They say police only registered a case of rape and murder after villagers took the girl’s corpses to a nearby highway, blocking it in protest.

Local police superintendent Man Singh Chouhan told reporters a case of conspiracy had been registered against two constables, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. 

But while one of the other accused perpetrators had been arrested, Mr Chouhan said the two police officers had merely been suspended.

“We have registered a case under various sections, including that of rape, and one of the accused has been taken into custody,” Chouhan told reporters yesterday.

“There were five people involved, one has been arrested and we are looking for the others,” he said.

Adding to speculation about the case’s handling are claims by the victim’s families that the girls were actually hanged by their perpetrators but that their murder was covered up by police. The allegations contradict the official police line that the teenagers appear to have hanged themselves following the rapes.

“The report suggests ante-mortem hanging, which means the girls probably committed suicide,” local police chief Atul Saxena told the AFP news agency. “But we will take into account all aspects before coming to a conclusion,” he said.

Uttar Pradesh.

The two victims were from a low-cast Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh’s Budaun district, where violence against women is prevalent and women’s status is low.

Figures from 2009 indicate that Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of crimes against women in the country, with a total of 23254 reported cases of violence, The Center for Social Research reports.

Activists say rape is massively under-reported across the nation due to stigma and police insensitivity to sex crimes.

India tightened its anti-rape laws last year after massive nation-wide and international protests over the crime, which records show  is committed every 22 minutes across the country of 1.2 billion people, Al Jazeera reports.

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault. Help is available. Call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic, Family Violence Counselling Service 24/7 on  1800 737 732. Bravehearts are another organisation that help the victims of child sex abuse. You can find more information about them here.