The bodies of two Dalit girls, aged 13 and 16, have been found on their family farm in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
A 17-year-old, who was also found at the same spot in Unnao district, is in serious condition in hospital.
The girls belonged to the same family – the older girls were sisters, and the 13-year-old was their cousin.
The teens had gone to the field as usual on Wednesday afternoon to collect cattle fodder and when they did not return, their families started searching for them.
The girls were found on Wednesday evening with their hands and legs bound with their own clothes.
However, a senior police officer said the girls may have died of poisoning.
“There was some white substance coming out of their mouth and doctors have said there were symptoms of poisoning. We are recording statements of all the people concerned and an in-depth probe is being conducted,” Superintendent of Police Sureshrao A Kulkarni said.
The girls were from Dalit families – formerly called untouchables – who are at the very bottom of the Hindu caste system and despite laws to protect them, still face widespread discrimination in India.
Sexual violence against Dalit women is not unusual and there has been no sign that such attacks are abating.
Last September, the family of a 19-year-old Dalit woman who died after she was allegedly gang-raped by four upper-caste men, accused the police of cremating her body without their permission.
Unnao district has been in the news for sexual violence against women in recent years.
A lawmaker from the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Unnao was convicted of rape in 2019.
An area woman was set on fire in 2019 when she was on her way to testify against her alleged rapists. She later died of her injuries.