Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel
Minister Praful Patel has demanded the death penalty for those responsible (Wiki Commons)

Three young sisters have been raped and murdered, and their bodies dumped into a well in the Bhandara district of Maharashtra, west India.

The girls, aged six, nine and 11, were lured away by the promise of food by strangers, their grandfather said.

After finishing school on 14 February, the girls went missing. Their mother had reported their disappearance to the police in Lakhni.

Two days later, they were found dead in a well in the village of Murwadi. The exact cause of death has not been announced.

At first their deaths were listed as accidental but villagers protested outside the police station until a case of murder, kidnapping and rape was lodged.

Chief minister Prithviraj Chaven said: "The incident is extremely deplorable and painful. I appeal to the people to maintain calm and cooperate with the law-enforcers."

An autopsy of the girls showed they were raped and a manhunt has been launched to detain the person or persons responsible.

Police superintendent Aarti Singh told AFP: "The bodies of the three young girls were found in a well, with their schoolbags and footwear. The post-mortem has confirmed that the girls were raped and then murdered."

Death penalty

He added that four people have been detained for questioning but no arrests have been made.

The girls' father had died four years ago and their mother works as a labourer. They lived in poverty, their grandfather said.

Praful Patel, minister for Maharashtra, visited the children's mother and said he was "appalled" by their rape and murders.

"As a father of three daughters, I am appalled at the atrocity committed on these girls. I have raised the matter with the chief minister to ensure financial assistance to the widow, speedy investigation and a fast track trial of the accused," he said.

Patel demanded the death penalty for those responsible, adding that the girls' family should be given compensation for their murders.

Earlier this week, home minister of Maharashtra Raosaheb Ramrao Patil announced the suspension of Prakash Mude, the chief of the Lakhni police station, which is responsible for investigating the girls murder.

Since then, police have formed 12 special teams to investigate.