As India celebrated the One Billion Rising movement to fight violence against women on February 14, three little sisters aged five, nine and 11, went missing from their home in a small Maharashtra village. Four days later, their dead bodies were found in a well on the outskirts of the village, next to a roadside dhaba or eatery.
Autopsies have confirmed that the three children were brutally raped and killed before their bodies were thrown into the well. In terrible irony, their tiny slippers were found next to empty liquor bottles. A shocking story of extreme poverty, hunger and assault has since come to light.
Police say the three fatherless children - whose mother works as a domestic help in Lakhni village of Bhandara district and was away from home - were hungry and left home on Thursday afternoon in search of food. They found their way to the dhaba, where they were brutally raped and murdered.
That evening, their mother filed a missing persons complaint with the police. When their bodies were discovered, the police reportedly said the children, driven by poverty and hunger, could have killed themselves. Local residents say it was only when they protested that autopsies were conducted on the bodies. The post-mortem reports confirmed horrific assault.
The police have since registered a case of rape and murder and say investigations are on to trace the unidentified attackers. Rajendra Singh, Inspector General of Police, Nagpur Range told NDTV, "We have checked out 100 to 150 people and interrogated 10 to 15." Six-seven special teams have been formed to probe the incident, police sources have said.
Villagers, who are horrified at the three hungry children becoming easy prey to such brutal assault and murder, say they have complained about such dhabas which illegally serve liquor and attract "criminal elements."