Six arrested for rape, murder of Lakhimpur Kheri sisters
The bodies of the girls, aged 15 and 17, were found hanging from a tree in a sugarcane field about a kilometre from their home in Nighasan police station area of Lakhimpur Kheri on Wednesday
LAKHIMPUR KHERI/LUCKNOW Uttar Pradesh Police on Thursday arrested six men who allegedly raped and murdered two minor sisters in Lakhimpur Kheri district and strung their bodies on a tree even as the gruesome crime sparked outrage, protests, and a political war.
The bodies of the two girls, aged 15 and 17, was found in a sugarcane field about a kilometre from their home late on Wednesday. Those arrested included a local villager, Chhotu Gautam, and five other men from a neighbouring village — Junaid, Sohail, Hafeezul Rehman, Karimudeen, and Adil — said district superintendent of police Sanjiv Suman.
“Junaid and Sohail have confessed to strangling the girls after raping them,” said Suman. The postmortem examination report of the bodies of the two sisters, who hailed from a Dalit family, said they were raped and strangulated, said a police officer on condition of anonymity. Gautam is also Dalit, and the other accused are Muslim.
Suman said that Gautam acted as a facilitator who helped Junaid, Sohail and Rehman gain access to the girls’ house on Wednesday. The men struck up a friendship with the girls, and lured them to a nearby sugarcane field where they allegedly raped the sisters, added the SP. When the girls demanded the men marry them, they overpowered the sisters, killed them, and used their dupatta to hang them from a tree, Suman said.
“The other two accused, Kareemudeen and Adil, helped in disposing of the bodies,” he said.
The two girls were buried in a field near their home around 5.30pm after the administration convinced the family to give up their protest and assured all support and compensation. The family earlier refused to carry out the sisters’ last rites, demanding compensation, a quick trial and the death sentence for the six men.
Junaid was arrested on Saturday morning after an encounter around 8.30am. A motorcycle, countrymade pistol and ammunition were recovered from him. Additional director general of police (law and order) Prashant Kumar said Junaid was injured in the encounter. Suman said the clothes of the other accused were sent for examination.
A panel of doctors confirmed rape and death due to strangulation in the postmortem examination report, according to people familiar with the matter.
Additional SP AK Singh said that a first information report (FIR) was lodged against Gautam and three unidentified men under sections 302 (murder), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 452 (criminal house trespass) and 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code . Sections 3 and 4 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act were also included.
A second police officer said provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act — usually used when the victims of a crime are Dalit or Adivasi — weren’t invoked against Gautam as he was Dalit, but will likely be included against the other five accused men.
Tensions simmered in Lakhimpur Kheri, where local villagers blocked roads and the victim’s father demanded the accused be hanged. He refused to start the cremation till the government accepted ₹1 crore ex gratia and a job to one member of his family. He also sought trial in a fast-track court.
After two hours of negotiation, he agreed to perform the last rites when Singh assured of around ₹16 lakh ex gratia for the two sisters. District magistrate Mahendra Bahadur Singh said the administration will forward the family’s other demands to the state government. The officials also assured the family that the case will be tried in a fast track court and all efforts made for strictest punishment to the accused.
The case also sparked a political slugfest.
Opposition parties hit out at the state government and said the administration had failed to keep women safe. “The kidnapping and murder of two minor Dalit sisters in Lakhimpur in broad daylight is a very disturbing incident… we have to create a safe environment in the country for our sisters and girls,” said senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said the government should reform its policy, working and priorities to prevent such crimes.
But the state government hit back, accusing the Opposition of trying to politicise the crime. “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,” said deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
Deputy chief minister Brajesh Pathak said the government stood with the family members of the victims. “The government will take such an action that the accused’s future generations will shiver,” he added.
A government spokesperson said chief minister Yogi Adityanath was keeping tabs on the investigation. “After the incident came to light on Wednesday evening, the chief minister spoke to top cops in the state and asked them to get the culprits behind bars within 24 hours. None of those behind the heart-rending incident should escape, he said and expressed condolence to the bereaved family,” said the spokesperson. “The CM told the police that they have a free hand in taking action in the case,” he added.