Two Indian sisters who became national heroines after a video of them hitting back at harassers on a crowded bus went viral are to be awarded cash for their action by local authorities. But residents in the attackers' village have reportedly defended the men and demanded their release from custody.
Aarti Kumar, 22, and her 19-year-old sister, Pooja, were filmed as they beat up three men who allegedly touched them and made lewd remarks while travelling on a bus in the Rohtak district of the northern state of Haryana.
The footage captured by another passenger showed the two girls punching and lashing the harassers with a belt amid the indifference of other passengers.
"One of the boys started touching my sister and making kissing gestures," Arati told reporters. "I told him to go away or I would teach him a lesson. Then he called another boy saying that we have to beat up two girls. And then the other boy got on the bus."
The video was posted online and picked up by all major national media, turning the episode into the last of a series to underscore endemic sexual harassment in India.
Many people, including politicians, took to Twitter to praise the girls using the hashtag #RohtakBravehearts, while Haryana Chief Minister, Shri Manohar Lal Khattar, pledged to reward their bravery.
The three alleged assailants have been arrested and remanded in custody for 14 days but residents in their village of Kandla have mounted a protest demanding their immediate release.
Protesters claim the three have been falsely accused of harassment as the footage shows a dispute over bus seats, the Times of India reported.
Meanwhile, the bus driver has also been suspended for failing to take action during the fight.
The sisters claimed no one came to their defence and some of the passengers actually suggested they keep quiet as they might be later become victims of acid attacks.
Violence against women in the country has been the focus of international attention since the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student on a Delhi bus in December 2012.
The crime sparked massive protests that resulted in the government signing more stringent anti-rape laws.