The postmortem reports of the two Dalit minor sisters, who were found dead in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district, confirmed that they were raped and strangulated, ANI reported on Thursday, citing the police.

The report stated that the sisters, aged 15 and 17 years, died “due to asphyxia as a result of antemortem [before death] strangulation”. Their bodies were found hanging from a tree on Wednesday.

Earlier on Thursday, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested six men in the connection with the case, ANI reported.

The accused persons have been identified as Chotu, Junaid, Sohail, Hafizul, Karimuddin and Arif, said Lakhimpur Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Suman at a press briefing. Junaid was taken into custody after a gunfight in which he was shot in the leg, he added.

The family of the sisters alleged that three persons from a nearby village had abducted them. They held protests at the Nighasen crossing a few kilometres away from the village.

The police have filed a first information report under Sections 302 (murder), 376 (rape), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 452 (house trespass after preparation for assault) of the Indian Penal Code, as well as under provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, Aaj Tak reported.

Suman said that Chotu, a neighbour of the girls, had introduced other accused men to them. Sohail and Junaid then lured the girls to a farm and raped them, ANI reported.

“After the girls forced the accused to marry them, Sohail, Hafizul and Junaid strangulated and killed them,” he said. “They then called Karimuddin and Arif and hanged girls to eliminate proof.”

Junaid and Sohail have confessed to strangulating the girls after raping them, the officer said, according to PTI.

Inspector General, Lucknow Range Laxmi Singh said that no injuries were found on the bodies of the girls. “Other things to be ascertained after postmortem,” she said. “We’ll try to expedite the probe.”

Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak said that the proceedings will take place through a fast-track court, ANI reported. “Government will take such an action that the souls of their coming generations will also shiver,” he declared.

The girls’ father, however, demanded that the culprits should be hanged.

Meanwhile, the bodies of the girls were brought for burial to their village on Thursday afternoon after autopsy was conducted. Members of the family’s community bury bodies instead of creating them when children die, reported PTI.

The family initially refused to carry out the last rites, demanding compensation, a government job and death sentence for the six persons. They agreed after several hours of persuasion, according to PTI.

Their mother has alleged that the postmortem was conducted without her permission and that she had not even seen the bodies, reported ANI. She also alleged that the police did not take any action on the family’s complaint about the incident.

However, the superintendent of police claimed that the postmortem had been done with the family’s consent. A videography of the post-mortem examination was also done, he added.

District Magistrate Mahendra Bahadur Singh said necessary action is being taken to provide Rs 8.25 lakh as compensation for each of the two girls. He added the family’s other demands will be sent to the state government.

Opposition reacts

Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party Chief Mayawati on Thursday said that criminals were moving freely in Uttar Pradesh because of misplaced government priorities.

“This incident has exposed the law and order situation in the state and the false claims made by the ruling government on women’s safety etc in UP,” she said. “Government is busy hiding the truth in such heinous crimes including Hathras and the criminals are fearless. The UP government should make necessary reforms in its policy, methodology and priorities.”

The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister was referring to a case where a Dalit woman was gangraped and killed by four upper-caste men in Hathras on September 14, 2020. The district authorities had secretly cremated the 19-year-old’s body around 3 am on September 30, without the consent of her family, who alleged they were locked up in their home by the police during the cremation.

About the Lakhimpur crime, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that the kidnapping and rape of the Dalit sisters was a disturbing incident.

“Women’s safety cannot be expected from those facilitating the release of rapists and welcoming them,” he said.

Gandhi was referring to the release of 11 men convicted of rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Gujarat government’s remission policy.

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said that the killings of the two sisters were heart-rending. “The law and order situation will not improve by giving false advertisements in newspapers and television channels every day,” she remarked. “Why are heinous crimes against women on the rise in Uttar Pradesh? When will the government wake up?”

Tweeting a video of the dead bodies, the Samajwadi Party said that the incident has exposed the “hollow claims about women safety” made by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath.

“Under Yogi government, goons are harassing mothers and sisters every day, very shameful,” the party wrote in the tweet. “The government should get the matter investigated, the culprits should get the harshest punishment.”

The Aam Aadmi Party also demanded an investigation and strict punishment for the culprits.