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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

#VILE: Police officers among those arrested for gang rape and murder of teenage sisters in Uttar Pradesh

Four of the men arrested for the gang rape and murder of two teenage sisters in rural Uttar Pradesh are police officers, according to reports.

The girls, who were 14 and 15, were found hanging from a mango tree on Wednesday in a village near the town of Badaun, some 230 kilometres southeast of the capital New Delhi. 

The tree has since become a scene of a silent protest by villagers who allege that local police officials have been slow to react in a bid to protect "two of their own".

Villagers found the girls' bodies hanging from the tree in the early hours of Wednesday, hours after they disappeared from fields near their home.

The girls had gone into the fields because there was no toilet in their home.

Hundreds of angry villagers stayed next to the tree throughout Wednesday, silently protesting the police response.

TV footage showed the villagers sitting under the girls' bodies as they swung in the wind, and preventing authorities from taking them down until the suspects were arrested.

Police arrested two police officers and two men from the village later Wednesday and were searching for three more suspects.

Autopsies confirmed the girls had been raped and strangled before being hung, a local police officer said.

The villagers accused the chief of the local police station of ignoring a report by the girls' father Tuesday night that the girls were missing.  The local police chief has since been suspended.

The family belongs to the so-called "untouchable" Dalit caste, considered the lowest rung in India's caste system.

India tightened its anti-rape laws last year, making gang rape punishable by the death penalty, even when the victim survives. 

The new laws came after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi that triggered nationwide protests.

Health workers, police and women's rights activists say women and girls face the risk of rape and harassment when they go out into fields or bushes due to the lack of toilets in their homes.

Some 600 million Indians, half the country's population, lack toilet facilities. 

A recent study said around 30 percent of women from poor families faced violent sexual assaults every year because they did not have access to a safe toilet.

Last month, the head of Uttar Pradesh state's governing party, the regionally prominent Samajwadi Party, told an election rally that the party was opposed to the law calling for gang rapists to be executed.

"Boys will be boys," Mulayam Singh Yadav said. "They make mistakes."

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