Two young girls found hanged from a tree in a village in rural north India earlier this year were not gang-raped and murdered as was previously thought, investigators revealed today.
The discovery of the bodies of the girls, cousins aged 12 and 14, caused widespread international outrage about the treatment of women in India.
The girls’ families said they had been raped and lynched by men from a higher caste after the two had left their homes in the middle of the night and gone into a nearby field which the family had used as a toilet because they didn’t have any facilities at home.
But after a months-long investigation, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said it “has concluded that it is a case of suicide”.
“Based on 40 scientific reports, CBI has concluded that the two minor girls had not been raped and murdered as had been alleged in the (initial police report),” the agency said in a statement.
The Hindustan Times quoted a CBI official earlier Thursday as saying the girls took their own lives “because of family pressure owing to disapproval of their friendship with a villager”.
The case had sparked fresh debate about India’s treatment of women, less than two years after public anger erupted over the fatal gang-rape of a student on a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012.
That attack led to tougher laws for rapists and other sex offenders and new policies for police in dealing with the large numbers of assaults against women.
Police arrested five men over the case of the girls, who were from an impoverished village in rural Uttar Pradesh, after the families accused authorities of failing to act because they came from a lower caste.
All five were later released without charge.
Women’s rights activists were sceptical about the latest twist in the case and urged the CBI to reinvestigate.
“It must be taken seriously, decisions should not be taken in haste. The CBI should revisit its report and culprits must be punished,” Delhi Commission for Women chairwoman Barkha Shukla told reporters.
The All India Democratic Women’s Association said it “did not approve” of the CBI’s “theory”, and said that many questions were “still unanswered”.
Members of the girls’ village accused investigators of trying to “brush the case under the carpet”.
“They (CBI) are just trying to hide the real truth because they don’t want to take pains to find out who killed them and why,” neighbour Premwati Devi told AFP by phone from Badaun district.