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Teenage girls found hanging committed suicide, says CBI

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New Delhi (Nov. 21, 2014): Two teenage girls found hanged in May took their own lives and were not raped or murdered, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigators told media on Thursday, fuelling further criticism of their handling of a case that sparked global outrage.

Initial inquiries suggested the cousins, aged 14 and 15, from a low-caste community, were raped before being hanged from a mango tree in Badaun district in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.

Their deaths added to public anger in India over a spate of rapes that has made violence against women into front-page news, particularly since authorities seemed slow to react after the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus in 2012. 

But after five months of inquiry, the CBI said further forensic tests contradicted earlier findings and it had concluded the girls were not sexually assaulted and were not murdered.

A senior CBI official was quoted as saying the girls took their own lives "because of family pressure owing to disapproval of their friendship with a villager".

The Aam Admi Party, born out of the anti-graft movement that swept India three years ago, rejected the CBI's suicide theory and demanded the CBI reconsider its report.

"It seems humanly impossible for two girls to hang themselves or the CBI is not sharing the full facts," the party said in a statement.

"Badaun seems to be a convenient cover-up to avoid international shame and acceptance of the dismal law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh."

The girls' deaths shocked the world and stoked political tension between newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state officials over the investigation of the case.

Three brothers were arrested and held in jail in Badaun, 200 km (125 miles) southeast of the capital, New Delhi, but were released on bail when a 90-day period to press charges expired. Two policemen were held on suspicion of trying to cover up the apparent killings but were also released.

Four of the five suspects were from the powerful Yadav community, a land-owning Hindu caste that holds political sway in Uttar Pradesh. The victims were Shakyas, a lowly caste who are by tradition peasant farmers.

CBI investigators dismissed any involvement of the five men.

Violence against women has become a major issue in India and Modi has publicly stated that India was shamed by increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls.

The number of rapes reported in 2013 rose 35.2 percent to 33,707, about one tenth of them in Uttar Pradesh, data from the National Crime Records Bureau showed.

The victims are often females from poor and marginalised communities, activists say, while many such crimes go unreported or are not properly investigated.

Archaic practices such as lynching women accused of witchcraft, "honour killings" and dowry murders persist in India because they remain socially acceptable, a United Nations official said last year.