India Dalit Girls Gang-Rape Graphic Photo Murder Cousins Hung Mango Treee
Two girls are seen hanging from a tree in a village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh Reuters

Two teenage girls who were gang-raped and then hanged from a mango tree in the Indian village of Katra, Uttar Pradesh state may have been victims of honour killing, local officials have said.

The two cousins, aged 14 and 15, had gone out one evening to relieve themselves in the fields where they had been allegedly attacked by five men who raped and killed them.

After the brutal murder, three suspects - along with two policemen accused of inaction - were arrested, while two are still on the run.

In the latest developments in the incident that has sparked global outcry and shed light on the largely unpunished culture of rape in India, it emerged that the two girls might have been killed by their families in an honour killing.

According to head of police in Uttar Pradesh, only one of the girls had been raped and the five men sought for their murder may be innocent.

"We are suspecting there could be a different motive to the murders and the crime is of a different nature," Director General of Police A.L Bannerjee said.

He said new evidence had cast suspicion on the girls' relatives who will now be required to undergo "narco-analysis" - a form of lie detector test where suspects are interviewed while under the influence of so-called "truth drugs".

Ranjana Kumari, a leading campaigner for women's safety, decried the comments by the state police chief, saying they could only serve to ease the pressure on the Uttar Pradesh government and police, largely accused of failing to act after the atrocity took place.

"The police is making contradictory statements and are creating further confusion," Kumari told the Telegraph. "The world is watching us and it seems that the statements are politically motivated."

The victims belonged to the Dalit group - a low class, according to the rigid caste system practised in India.

Honour killing is widespread in India

Honour killing is widespread in India, where at least 1,000 killings take place every year.

However, the official statistics might not reflect the real figures as such crimes often go unreported.

The killing occurs when someone supposedly acts in a way that brings shame upon their family. The murder is carried out in order to restore the family's dignity.

Soutik Biswas, online correspondent for BBC News in India wrote on his blog:

"You can get killed for falling in love in many parts of India. Especially, if you or your lover - and sometimes spouse - 'defy' the preordained rules of the country's fiendishly complex caste system.

"You can invoke the ire of your family and community and get killed if you marry within your caste, outside your caste, within your sub-caste and so on. You can also get killed for marrying outside your religion."