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Exhumation of bodies of alleged Indian rape victims halted by rain

By Sharat Pradhan

LUCKNOW (Reuters) - Indian federal investigators on Saturday suspended the exhumation of the bodies of two teenage girls, who were allegedly raped and found hanging by their necks from a tree in May, as heavy rainfall inundated the burial area.

Authorities had decided to exhume the bodies after local police cast doubt on whether the girls had been sexually assaulted and suggested instead that it could have been a case of honor killing carried out by their families.

Five men, two of them police officers, were arrested in connection with the killing of the girls, aged 14 and 15, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The two cousins, from a low-caste community, went missing from their village when they went out to go to the toilet. The next morning, villagers found their bodies hanging from a mango tree in a nearby orchard.

Sex crimes against young girls and women are widespread in India, say activists, adding that females from poor, marginalized, low-caste communities are often the victims.

The poor state of women's safety in India has been in the spotlight since the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in the capital Delhi in 2012, which led to the introduction of tougher rape laws.

The investigation agency will resume the exhumation on Sunday if water levels recede, a local police officer said.

Authorities also took down a tent next to the burial ground where a team of seven doctors were to carry out the autopsy.

A rape is reported in India every 21 minutes on average, but such crimes are often not reported or properly investigated because of law enforcement failures, human rights groups say.

A six-year-old schoolgirl was allegedly raped by two staff members at a school in the southern city of Bangalore on July 2, local media reported.

Amnesty International India said on Saturday the country needs clear guidelines to help schools prevent instances of sexual violence and other abuse of children.

(Writing by Aditi Shah in NEW DELHI; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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