LUCKNOW, India (AFP) - India's monsoon rains on Sunday halted the exhumation of the bodies of two girls who were gang-raped and lynched, crimes that reignited fury over sexual violence in the country, an official said.
Authorities began digging up the bodies of the cousins, aged 12 and 14, on Saturday after local police cast doubt on whether they were sexually assaulted in northern India in late May.
Local police have claimed the girls may have been the victims of an honour killing. But the families of the girls have accused officers of failing to act quickly in the case because they are from a lower caste.
India's federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ordered a new autopsy after taking over the inquiry into the deaths of the girls who have been buried on the banks of the Ganges river in Uttar Pradesh state.
The CBI was now mulling whether to resume the exhumation after the graves were submerged by rising water levels caused by the rains.
"The CBI team is on the site reviewing the situation to plan the future course of action as the river is in spate," local police senior superintendent LR Kumar told AFP.
"The process can practically resume only when the water level recedes," said local district magistrate Shambhu Nath.
India has been trying to restore its battered reputation for violence against women, but public outrage was reignited by the deaths of the girls who were found hanging near their homes in Baduan district.
The girls had gone outside at night to relieve themselves because like most homes in their impoverished village theirs did not have a toilet when they were attacked.
Five men have been arrested over the incident.
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, which was also designed to educate and sensitise police on rape cases, has failed to stem the tide of violence.
A women was raped and murdered in the Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow last week, with her battered, naked body found dumped near a school.
In the southern city of Bangalore, thousands of demonstrators marched on Saturday to demand arrests in the case of a six-year-old girl allegedly raped in a school.
Parents accused school authorities of trying to shield suspects and "hush up the criminal act".