LUCKNOW, India (AFP) - The embattled chief minister of an Indian state under fire for a series of rapes and hangings said Sunday that he has called for a more sensitive police force to tackle growing crimes against women.
The shocking gang rape and lynching of two low-caste teenage girls and a string of other sex attacks in northern Uttar Pradesh has sparked public outrage, with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav coming under mounting pressure to resign for his handling of law and order.
In an interview with AFP, 40-year-old Mr Yadav acknowledged that rapes were a growing problem in his state, often committed by relatives or neighbours.
"I firmly believe that the government must sincerely work to make sure such incidents do not happen. The government should be sensitive about these issues," Mr Yadav said at his plush residence, which overlooks a sprawling manicured garden.
Mr Yadav of the socialist Samajwadi Party became the youngest-ever chief minister of Uttar Pradesh - home to more than 200 million people - two years ago, promising to rid the area of endemic crime.
But the latest attacks on women have put him in the spotlight, with activists calling his government's failure to protect women shameful.
When a reporter probed him about the lawlessness in Uttar Pradesh last month, Mr Yadav retorted: "You haven't faced any danger, right?"
He said the remark was taken out of context.
Mr Yadav said he has chalked out a plan for a special police branch for crimes against women and training sessions to make officers more sensitive.
"A woman police officer will be heading the branch so that if any crime against any woman happens, it comes to the notice of the government and immediate investigation takes place," said Mr Yadav, dressed in his traditional starched white kurta.
"I have also told the high court that I want fast-track courts. I have specifically told the top cops of the state that they must be sensitive to these issues and that they have to get to the crime before the media, else who will help the victims? The police will!"
Late last month, two girls, aged 12 and 14, were gang-raped and hanged in their village in Uttar Pradesh. They were attacked after going into a field to relieve themselves at night because they did not have a toilet at home.
Last week a woman said she had been gang raped by four officers at a police station in the state, and police said they were also investigating the death of a 19-year-old found, like the two girls, hanging from a tree.
India last year brought in tougher laws 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.