'Our ambitious girl': The village where cousins were raped and hanged

Villagers collect near tree where the girls were found in Badaun
Image caption Villagers accuse the local police of 'caste' discrimination

In the remote Indian village where two low-caste girls aged 14 and 16 were gang-raped and hanged, there is a sense of powerlessness and anger. The BBC's Divya Arya travelled to Katra Shahadatganj and sent this account of the people she met.

The village of Katra Shahadatganj in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is difficult to get to. The roads are in a poor state. There is hardly ever any power here and few homes have toilets.

Days ago it was the scene of a brutal rape and murder. In the late evening on Wednesday two cousins left home to visit a nearby field, which they used as a toilet.

They never returned and by the next morning they were found hanging from a tree in the village. They had been gang-raped.

Relatives say police ridiculed them when they first reported the girls missing after they heard from neighbours that the cousins had been accosted by a group of men.

They claim that caste discrimination is at the heart of this tragedy - the police deny this.

Mother: My girl was ambitious

Image copyright BB
Image caption The mother of the younger girl said her daughter was ambitious. This picture has been blurred to prevent identification.

The mother of the younger girl showed me her daughter's school notebooks lined with neat Hindi script.

She said that her daughter always wanted to do something more with her life than get married. She wanted to work and get a job.

"She wanted to study until college just like the boys in the village," her mother said.

She had told her daughter that she would be allowed to progress with her studies unhindered because she was the youngest girl in the family .

The mother said that in her generation women did not work but they have tried hard to educate their children.

She was composed but also full of anger. The mother of the older girl was howling and unable to speak.

'The danger of having no toilets'

Having to go to the field to defecate is the real problem identified by many villagers.

For women it's a huge issue. They have to venture out early in the morning or late in the evening, as defecating openly in the middle of the day is too embarrassing.

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Media captionCrowds gathered where the girls' bodies were found, as Joanna Jolly reports

"It is easier for men but it gets very difficult for us, especially during our menstrual cycles," the mother told me.

Women said they find themselves structuring their entire lives around when they can go to the toilet.

She said that it is a 15-minute walk to the field their family can use.

"I always keep my girls' safety in mind. I always accompany her and other girls in the family to the field. But that evening I had to help my husband in tending some animals so I let them go on their own. I asked them to be quick."

Neighbour: This could have been prevented

Image caption Most of the people in the village are farmers or farm labourers and many live in poverty

A neighbour says he saw the girls being harassed by a group of men and reported this to the parents who then went to the police.

They claim they were rebuffed.

The neighbour, Ramesh, told me he was not surprised: "Even though the police suspended some constables, the ones who replace them would not be any better. They would discriminate too."

"People from our caste are poor and illiterate and do not get employed in positions of power and influence."

Father: The police ridiculed me

The girl's father is poor farm labourer.

When he went to the police outpost at the village one of the men seen by the neighbour harassing his daughter was with them.

The father claims that police then ridiculed him for his low-caste status. "The first thing I was asked was my caste. When I told them they started abusing me," he said.

Even though the accused and the victims are from the same broad category known as "Other backward classes" the victims were lower down within that hierarchy.

The father said he had to go down on all fours and literally beg the police.

He said the officers and the man with them kept laughing and told them to go home and the girls would be back in two hours.

They went back and waited. The next morning, police told them the girls had been found in a field in their village.

Family friend: Our needs are not important

Image caption This woman, a friend of the family, described how vulnerable the women of the village were because they had no access to basic sanitation

Across the village people felt disenfranchised. During election time politicians come asking for their votes but ignore their needs.

Ratna, one family friend of the victims, said she constantly asks visiting officials about toilets, "but it is not important to them".

She said that when people are unwell, with upset stomach, it is like torture having to go to the field.

Poverty means they cannot afford a toilet inside their homes.

Police: There was no discrimination

There is no police station as such in the village, simply an outpost. But in the main station 45km (27 miles) away, senior official Atul Saxena denied any police discrimination.

He said that the moment they got the complaints from the family, they suspended officers and took action.

"It shows we are not trying to hide anything."

He said that no matter the caste, a criminal is a criminal in the eye of the law, and that police just need time to properly investigate cases.

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