India police fire water cannon at gang-rape protesters

Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shout slogans as police use a water cannon to stop them from moving towards the office of Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, during a protest against recent rap
Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shout slogans as police use a water cannon to stop them from moving towards the office of Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, during a protest against recent rape and hanging of two girls, in Lucknow. Three men were arrested for the crime in Uttar Pradesh that underscored the enduring culture of sexual assault in India and the capacity for appalling violence between Hindu castes. Two policemen were held on suspicion of attempting to cover up the killings. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian police fired water cannon on Monday at a group of mainly women protesting against the gang-rape and lynching of two girls in the country's north, television footage showed.

Several hundred protesters were demanding an end to violence against women at the protest outside the office of the chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the gang-rapes occurred.

"We're not going to sleep, we'll be here, they have to stop this (violence against women)," one protester told the NDTV network during the demonstration in the city of Lucknow.

"We're going to stay here, we're not going to give up," one middle-aged man said before the crowd was drenched by riot police.

The two cousins, aged 14 and 12, were found hanging from a mango tree in their impoverished village last Wednesday morning, with subsequent tests showing they had been the victim of multiple sexual assaults.

The girls had apparently gone into the fields on Tuesday night to relieve themselves because their home, like most in the state's Badaun district, did not have toilets.

Outrage is growing over the attacks after the girls' fathers accused local police of refusing to help find those responsible because they belonged to a low caste.

India revised its laws on sex attacks in the wake of the December 2012 gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi which triggered outrage, but they have done little to stem the tide of sex attacks.

Mass protests erupted in Delhi and elsewhere over that attack, which unleashed seething anger at India's treatment of women.

Rights activists and politicians said the latest cases showed authorities in Uttar Pradesh were "not serious" about tackling sexual crimes.

Asked at a press conference last week about the incidence of rapes in the state, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav told a female reporter: "You haven't been harmed, have you? No, right? Great. Thank you."

The head of Uttar Pradesh's ruling party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is also the chief minister's father, sparked uproar during the recent election campaign when he said rapists should not receive the death penalty because "boys will be boys".

Police have arrested five people in connection with the attacks on the girls and a federal police investigation has been ordered.