7 May 2018

Key arrest in India over girl burned alive

9:48 am on 7 May 2018

Indian police say they have arrested the main suspect in an alleged gang-rape and murder of a teenage girl.

Relatives of the 16-year-old mourn in the village of Raja Kendua.

Relatives of the 16-year-old mourn in the village of Raja Kendua. Photo: AFP

Dhanu Bhuiyan and his accomplices are accused of burning the 16-year-old alive on Friday in the state of Jharkhand.

She was killed after her parents complained to village elders that she had been raped, according to police.

The elders had told two accused rapists to do 100 sit-ups and pay a 50,000 rupee ($NZ1060) fine as punishment.

The men were allegedly so enraged by the penalty that they beat the girl's parents then set her on fire.

"The two accused thrashed the parents and rushed to the house where they set the girl ablaze with the help of their accomplices," Ashok Ram, the officer in charge of the local police station, told the AFP news agency.

Police said they have arrested 15 of the 18 people they want to investigate in connection with the incidents.

They said Mr Bhuiyan was arrested at a relative's house where he was hiding. The suspect has not commented on the accusations.

Councils of village elders carry no legal weight. However, they have significant influence in many parts of rural India and are a way of settling disputes without having to go through India's expensive judicial system.

However, several village elders have been charged with passing unlawful orders and tampering with evidence.

The latest incident comes as India reels from a string of violent sexual crimes.

About 40,000 rape cases were reported in India in 2016.

Many cases, however, are believed to go unreported because of the stigma that is attached to rape and sexual assault.