The rape and murder of three young sisters in Maharashtra has shocked the state.

“The incident is extremely deplorable and painful. I appeal to the people to maintain calm and cooperate with the law-enforcers,” Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said in a statement today.

The sisters, aged 11, 9 and 6 went missing from their school on February 14 after classes ended for the day.  Their bodies were found in a well four days later in their hometown in Bhandara district, just 65 kms from Nagpur.

Their grandfather says they were lured away by strangers who promised them food.  The girls had lost their father four years ago.  Their mother works as a daily wage labourer. The family lives in abject poverty.

The police has formed 12 special teams to probe the crime, but villagers say that the police first tried to  describe the deaths as “accidental” and got serious about the investigation only after villagers protested on the streets.

Yesterday, Union Minister Praful Patel who represents Maharashtra in parliament visited the mother of the three girls at her home.

“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,” Mr Patel said.