Three men have been arrested after a video emerged showing them assaulting two women in broad daylight as a dozen others looked on and ignored their screams for help, police said on Monday.
The blurry video aired by Indian television showed the men groping and pushing the women in Uttar Pradesh state as onlookers laughed and filmed the assault, later posting it on social media.
The incident took place last week in a remote village in Rampur district when the men surrounded the two women, whose ages and identities have not been revealed.
“We have arrested three of the main culprits and expect to get the fourth one shortly,” Mohammad Tariq, a senior Rampur police official, told AFP news agency.
Police have analysed the footage and concluded there were four main attackers but they would be investigating the others who gathered to watch, Tariq added.
One of the victims told India’s NDTV network they begged the men to stop and called for help.
“But nobody came, rather some more men came and joined the others in harassing us,” she said, covering her face with a scarf to hide her identity.
Police have charged the three men with sexual harassment and offences under India’s internet laws for sharing the video on social media.
India has a terrible record of rape and sexual assault, and rights groups accuse authorities of failing swiftly to bring offenders to justice.
Uttar Pradesh’s new leader Yogi Adiyanath, who came to power in March, sought to tackle the scourge through “anti-Romeo squads” – police units tasked with patrolling the streets ostensibly to protect women.
But the squads themselves quickly came under fire after revelations they were harassing young couples in parks and colleges and publicly shaming them.
Azam Khan, a former Uttar Pradesh minister, invoked outrage in the wake of the latest assault when he suggested women stay indoors to avoid “misbehaving” men.
“People should ensure that women of their house stay indoors as much as possible,” he said, describing Uttar Pradesh as “lawless”.