LUCKNOW, India (AFP) - The Indian police said on Thursday they were investigating a spate of rapes and hangings in a troubled northern region, as the national women's rights body called for the state government to resign over the crisis.
India has been trying to restore its battered reputation for violence against women, but public outrage was reignited by the deaths last month of two girls, aged 12 and 14, who were gang-raped and lynched in their impoverished village in Uttar Pradesh.
On Thursday a woman said she had been gang-raped by four officers at a police station in the state, and the police said they were also investigating the death of a 19-year-old found, like the two girls, hanging from a tree. "The body was strung up using the girl's dupatta (long scarf)," senior police superintendent Ashutosh Kumar said, adding the incident occurred in a village in Moradabad district. "The FIR (first information report) was lodged by the girl's brother against unidentified persons. He has alleged the girl was murdered," he told AFP.
The cases are the latest in a series of attacks in Uttar Pradesh, whose chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is under mounting political pressure to resign over his handling of law and order.
Ms Mamata Sharma, head of the state-run National Commission for Women, urged Mr Yadav to resign, calling his government's failure to protect women "shameful".
"They (the government) not only fails in protecting their women but they don't even have the police in their control," Ms Sharma told NDTV.
Over the weekend, Mr Yadav accused the families of the two girls of coming under the influence of a rival political party, after they demanded a federal police investigation into the attacks.
Their families refused to have the bodies cut down from the tree for hours in protest, saying the police had failed to take action against the attackers because the girls were from a low caste.
When asked earlier by reporters about a sharp rise in rape cases in his state, Mr Yadav replied: "It's not as if you faced any danger."
India brought in tougher laws last year against sexual offenders after the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012, an attack that drew international condemnation of India's treatment of women.
But the legislation designed to educate and sensitise police on rape cases has failed to stem the tide of violence.
In south-west Uttar Pradesh, the woman who alleged she was gang-raped by four officers at a police station said the attack occurred as she was trying to seek her husband's release.
"At 11.30pm when there was no one in the room the sub-inspector took me to his room and raped me inside the police station," the woman, who cannot be named, told the CNN-IBN channel.
The woman filed a complaint against the sub-inspector and three other officers, alleging she was attacked in Hamirpur district when she refused to pay them a bribe, the police said.
"The procedure will be followed, the victim has filed a complaint and the guilty will be arrested soon," said Mr Virendra Kumar Shekhar, a district police official.
A 45-year-old woman was also found hanging from a tree in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday with her family claiming she had been raped and murdered.
Her husband said she was singled out for attack as she returned home in Bahraich district as punishment for trying to halt the sale of alcohol in her area.
"My wife used to fight against the local liquor mafia. They created a ruckus here every other day and attacked you if you said anything to them," her husband told NDTV.
"We have detained four of the five men accused and are interrogating them," district superintendent Happy Guptan told AFP on Thursday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday urged all politicians to work together to protect women, in his first comments on the issue since the hanging of the girls sparked public outrage.
Mr Modi warned politicians against "politicising rape", saying they were "playing with the dignity of women" in his first speech to parliament since sweeping to power at last month's national elections.
The appeal came ahead of a scheduled meeting between Mr Yadav and Mr Modi in New Delhi.
Uttar Pradesh, with a population of some 200 million, has a history of communal clashes and violence. The state recorded 23,569 crimes against women in 2012, the third highest in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.