India’s deeply troubling problem of sexual violence towards women sunk to a new, gruesome low on Wednesday. Two teenage sisters in rural northern India were abducted from fields near their home and gang raped before being strangled by their attackers and then left hanging by nooses from a mango tree. “The girls, who were 14 and 15, had gone into the fields because there was no toilet in their home,” the Associated Press reports.
Neighbors in the girls' village discovered the bodies, but refused to take them down as a form of protest against the police’s response to the horrific killings. Two police officers are accused of playing a role in the crime, the New York Times reports. Here’s more from the AP:
Hundreds of angry villagers stayed next to the tree for the rest of Wednesday, silently protesting the police response. Indian TV footage showed the villagers sitting under the girls' bodies as they swung in the wind, and preventing authorities from taking them down from the tree until the suspects were arrested… Police arrested two police officers and two men from the village later Wednesday and were searching for three more suspects.
India tightened its anti-rape laws last year, making gang rape punishable by the death penalty, even when the victim survives. The new laws came after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in New Delhi that triggered nationwide protests.
Records show a rape is committed every 22 minutes in India, a nation of 1.2 billion people. Activists say that number is low because of an entrenched culture of tolerance for sexual violence, which leads many cases to go unreported. Women are often pressed by family or police to stay quiet about sexual assault, experts say, and those who do report cases are often subjected to public ridicule or social stigma.