ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In India there is outrage over the murder of two young girls last week. Both girls were raped and hanged from a tree by their own scarves. NPR's Julie McCarthy traveled to the scene of the murders in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: India is once again in turmoil over crimes against its women, this time a lynching of two young girls. A mother and grandmother grieve in this impoverished village of Katra Shahadatganj, where two girls, cousins, were last seen one week ago. The evening of May 27, the pair ventured out into an open field that was their bathroom. Like 630 million Indians, their home has no toilet, forcing the girls out into the dark, exposing them to wild animals, and on that night murderers. The family says the girls were 12 and 14.
Sohan-lal, the father of the younger one, pulls a small picture from his pocket, a haunting image of two girls - one dressed in green, the other shocking pink - suspended lifeless from a tree. Their killers fashioned the girls' scarves into nooses that cut deep into their necks. The postmortem report, which puts the girls at 14 and 16, cites evidence it says suggests rape and asphyxia, due to hanging. Police have jailed and charged three brothers, ages 19 to 26, with rape and murder. Two dismissed constables face charges of connivance and gross neglect of duty. Sohan-lal says he went to the police seeking help to find the missing girls. He found the constables sleeping.
SOHAN-LAL: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: They abused us for waking them up. You don't let us sleep, they said. What caste do you belong to? After hours of pleading, the police detained one of the three accused brothers and told the fathers, in two hours, go look for your girls in an orchard or near a tree. Sohan-lal recounts, we found them at 5 in the morning, hanging from a mango tree. No one listened to us, this slight father of five children said, adding, I want the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over this case.
The affair is rife with claims of caste violence. The brothers in custody are from the Yadav caste, the victims from the Shakya caste. India designates both as backward castes, defined as educationally and socially disadvantaged. The Yadav are considered the dominant. Other low-caste villagers say the police protect them, as do Yadav politicians who run the state.
As the case gathers a political life of its own, Rahul Gandhi joined the stream of politicians beating a path to the family's door. The scion of the Gandhi dynasty, whose party was trounced in the national election in May, listened to their story and with the village massing, marched to the scene of the crime.
This is a village full of tension and anger over what has happened to two of their daughters. And Rahul Gandhi got an earful when he arrived here. Standing near the spot where the girls were hanged, Gandhi decried the lax police and the disrespect for women.
RAHUL GANDHI: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: They need justice here and a national investigation, Gandhi said. The people who have done this and the people like them should know you cannot do this with women in India, he said. But villager Kamla Devi said women are routinely harassed, teased and worse.
Have women here ever been sexually assaulted in the fields?
KAMLA DEVI: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: They drag us aside and beat us up, she says. They misbehave when we go to the fields to relieve ourselves. And when they cannot control us, they kill us - a reference Kamla makes to this unusually gruesome case that has spawned a furor over the lack of law and order and proper toilets. Sixty-four percent of people in this, India's largest state, have no indoor plumbing. Jamati Sangwan leads the All India Democratic Women's Association.
JAMATI SANGWAN: There is need of proper toilet facilities for the safety and security of women and more specifically, for the deprived sections, derelict sections, who are landless who depend on the landowning community for this facility.
MCCARTHY: Demonstrators besieged the office of the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh today, also a Yadav. They were dispersed with water cannon. The anguish of a poor village over the hanging of two young girls is spiraling into a political maelstrom. Julie McCarthy, NPR News.