By Maseeh Rahman
India has been hit by another case of sexual violence after three sisters aged five, nine and 11 were raped and murdered in a remote village.
The three girls, who lived with their mother in Lakhni village in Maharashtra state, disappeared on 14 February, on their way home from school. Their widowed mother is a poor labourer, and when the grandfather went to the police to report their disappearance there was no attempt to search for them.
The police found the bodies of the three girls in an old well two days later, and recorded the deaths as "accidental". But it was only after people from the village blocked a national highway on Wednesday in protest against the police inaction that the state home minister finally took notice.
A preliminary medical examination showed that all the girls had been raped before being killed.
When a television news reporter from the CNN-IBN made it to the village on Thursday, the girls' mother said: "The first day when we filed the complaint [about the girls' disappearance], the police didn't act on it. Had they looked for the girls, my girls would have been found. This is nothing but negligence."
Asked about the compensation of one million rupees (£12,000) that the state government has offered the family, she responded, "No amount of money is going to bring my girls back. I appeal to the government to catch the culprits early and hang them."
Arti Singh, the district superintendent of police, said an inquiry had been launched against the inspector in charge of the local police station over the delay in responding to the complaint about the missing girls last week. The inspector has been suspended.
"We've got some strong, solid indications [about the suspects] and we're working very hard," she said.
The young mother's tragedy in a remote village once again demonstrated how the police in India often fail to adequately respond to major crimes, especially when it involves women and children.
When a young physiotherapist was brutally gang-raped in a moving Delhi bus in December, the extraordinary public outrage across the country forced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government to promise better policing and faster legal action to protect Indian women at home and outside.
But even as lawmakers prepared to discuss a new law against sexual offences on Friday, news of the latest atrocity, involving three young girls in a village more than a thousand kilometres from the Indian capital, was kept under a veil of silence until villagers rioted and blocked the national highway demanding a proper investigation.
"There was no nationwide outrage in response to the latest heinous incident of rape," said a CNN-IBN news anchor. "Why is the nation silent? Or have we become numb?"
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