A Catholic bishop in India has condemned the killing of two young Dalit girls on a farm in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur (Orissa), head of the Disadvantaged Caste and Tribal Office of the bishops’ conference, described the killing of the two sisters aged 13 and 16 as “a brutal crime.”
The prelate said it was “an act devoid of humanity, performed by a depraved mind.”
A 17-year-old girl, also a sister of the two deceased, was likewise found at the same location in Unnao district, was reported in serious condition in a hospital.
The family of the girls said the three sisters had gone to their field to collect cattle fodder but failed to go back home.
The family said they were found on Feb. 17 evening with their hands and legs tied with their own clothes.
A senior police officer, however, has 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,” a BBC report quoted police superintendent Sureshrao A Kulkarni.
“We are recording statements of all the people concerned and an in-depth probe is being conducted,” said the officer.
The girls belonged to Dalit families — formerly untouchables under India’s ancient caste system. They are considered unclean because they do menial work like manual scavenging and are traditionally ostracized. The Indian Constitution officially abolished caste distinctions in 1949 but the legacy of caste discrimination continues.
The district of Unnao has had cases of violence against women. In 2019, a rape victim was burned alive shortly before testifying in court for the violence she suffered.
Bishop Nayak said that it is often that Dalit girls who are victims of rape “are discriminated against threefold” — for their caste status, for gender, and for the different economic treatment they receive at work.
“Christian Dalits are also persecuted for their faith,” said the bishop in a report from the Italian news agency Asia News.
Bishop Nayak said the perpetrators of crime target Dalit women because of impunity.
“The system does not help the lower castes,” said the bishop, adding that it is “an internal problem in families, where women are discriminated against on the basis of a patriarchal concept of society.”
There are an estimated 200 million Dalits in India, some 16 percent of the country’s population of 1.3 billion. In Uttar Pradesh, they constitute 21 percent of the total state’s population of 204 million.