Man arrested over brutal rape, murder of Indian schoolgirl

An Indian social activist holds a placard during a protest against a rape at Hauz Khas village in New Delhi. (Sajjad Hussain, FP)
An Indian social activist holds a placard during a protest against a rape at Hauz Khas village in New Delhi. (Sajjad Hussain, FP)

Shimla - Indian police on Thursday arrested a key suspect in the gang rape and murder of a teenage girl near the hill resort of Shimla, shocking a small community where such brutal violence is rare.

The discovery of the 16-year-old's bruised and naked body has triggered outpourings of grief and anger in Himachal Pradesh, a northern state with some of India's lowest rates of sexual violence.

An autopsy confirmed the girl - whose body was found in a forest two days after she was allegedly kidnapped on her way home from school - was gang raped and murdered by strangulation.

She sustained severe injuries in the assault, including a broken leg.

Zahur S Zaidi, inspector general of Himachal Pradesh police, said a 29-year-old man who was the main suspect in the attack had been arrested and was assisting investigators with their inquiry.

It is expected more arrests will be made in the case. The accused is a drug addict and suspected of involvement in other sexual offences, another officer said.

India has a gruesome record on rape. Nearly 40 000 rape cases are reported every year but the real number is thought to be much higher, with victims wary of how their complaints will be dealt with or the social stigma attached to sex crimes.

In the capital New Delhi, nearly 2 200 rape cases were registered in 2015 - an average of six a day, according to most recent official figures.

Himachal Pradesh - the Himalayan state where stunned residents held protests demanding justice - recorded 244 rapes that same year, among the lowest rates in India.

India strengthened its laws on sexual violence after the fatal gang rape of a Delhi student in 2012 caused global outrage, but attacks on women are still widespread.

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