Lakhimpur Kheri: Six men were arrested on Thursday in connection with the alleged rape and murder of two teenage Dalit sisters who were found hanging from a tree in sugarcane field in Lakhimpur Kheri, police said.

Police sources said the post-mortem report revealed that the girls, aged 15 and 17, were raped and then strangled.

The bodies were found hanging about a kilometre away from their home on Wednesday.

The Opposition has slammed the state's Bharatiya Janata Party-led government over law and order, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday saying, "Women's safety cannot be expected from those facilitating the release of rapists and welcoming them." The former Congress chief was apparently referring to the release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape after the BJP-led Gujarat government allowed it under its remission policy.

Meanwhile, the girls' relatives demanded a government job for a family member, adequate compensation and the death sentence to the six accused before the victims' last rites are performed.

Lakhimpur Kheri Superintendent of Police (SP) Sanjiv Suman told reporters that according to preliminary probe the girls had left their home on Wednesday afternoon with two of the accused, Junaid and Sohail.

The girl's mother had earlier alleged that they were abducted.

"Junaid and Sohail have confessed to strangling the girls after raping them," the SP said.

He said both were in a relationship with the two sisters, who insisted on marriage, after which they were strangled. The others arrested were identified as Hafizur Rehman, Karimuddin, Arif and Chottu.

Junaid was arrested following an encounter around 8.30 am, police said. A motorcycle, country-made pistol and ammunition were recovered from him.

Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said Junaid was injured in the encounter.

"The bodies have been handed over to family members, who will conduct their last rites," Kumar said. SP Suman said clothes of the other accused have been sent for an examination.

Suman also dismissed claims that police used force to send the bodies for a post-mortem, which he said was

Conducted with their family's consent. A videography of the post-mortem examination was also done, the SP added.

The girls' father, a landless labourer, expressed satisfaction over the police action in the case.

"We are satisfied with the police action in the case so far," said the sobbing father.

The victims' mother had lodged a complaint at the Nighasan Kotwali police station on Wednesday night, alleging that her daughters were raped and murdered.

She alleged that three motorcycle-borne unidentified youths, along with her neighbour Chhotu, stormed into their hutment and abducted her daughters. When she resisted, one of them kicked her and took the girls on a motorcycle to the fields outside the village, she alleged.

The family later found the girls hanging from a tree in a field around a kilometre away from their village, she said.

After the incident came to light, villagers staged a demonstration at Nighasan Crossing.

Police took the bodies into custody and sent them to the district headquarters in an ambulance while SP Suman and Assistant Superintendent of Police (APS) Arun Kumar Singh spoke to the villagers.

A large number of police personnel were deployed to ensure law and order in the village. ADGP Kumar said senior officials from Lucknow were also sent to the spot.

The incident has drawn angry reactions from opposition parties.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said, "Criminals in UP are fearless because the priorities of the government are wrong."

'This incident exposes the claims of the government in the matter of law and order. Criminals are moving without any fear since there has been a cover-up in most of the criminal cases, including the one in Hathras. The government should make necessary reforms in its policy, working and priorities,' she said in a Hindi tweet.

On the other hand, the state's two deputy chief ministers -- Keshav Prasad Maurya and Brajesh Pathak--said the government was with the victims' family and assured action against the accused.

Maurya in a Hindi tweet said, 'Strictest action will be taken against the criminals who have raped and murdered daughters in Lakhimpur Kheri. An issueless opposition should not do politics in such matters!. The punishment given to the accused will set an example.'

Pathak tweeted, 'The state government stands with the family members of the victims. The government will take such an action that the accused's future generations will shiver.'

Police have registered a case against the six accused under Sections 302 (murder), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 376 (rape) and 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint) of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. A statement from Lakhimpur Kheri said provisions of the SC/ST Act have also been included in the FIR.

—PTI



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