Arti and Pooja Kumar, aged 22 and 19, were allegedly harassed by the men on a crowded bus last week while returning home in Rohtak, a district of largely rural Haryana state that borders New Delhi.
The sisters, using their belts and their hands, were seen retaliating for the harassment by attacking the men who themselves fought back. Other passengers merely looked on.
Police arrested the men on Sunday night after mobile phone footage, shot by a pregnant fellow passenger, was uploaded on social media and replayed on India’s multiple 24 hour news channels.
Although many praised the girls’ bravery, others were scathing of the other passengers. Some of them were seen sniggering as the attacks took place.
“Hats off to #RohtakBravehearts. N I despise such men who just sat and watched everything happening,” one posted on Twitter.
Braveheart was the term given by the media to the 23-year-old student who died after being gang-raped on a moving bus in Delhi in 2012.
The horrific attack sparked international outrage, street protests and a round of soul-searching in India about its treatment of women.
Some hoped the latest incident would inspire others to rise up against so-called eve teasing, a euphemism for harassment that women in India endure on an almost daily basis.
“Go brave girls! #girlrising and wake up bystanders! Its shameful, the only one who intervened was a pregnant woman!,” said actress Freida Pinto, star of “Slumdog Millionaire”.
“Bravo! #RohtakBravehearts 4 standing up against eve teasing. Hope you become role models for all girls who want to stand up against #eveteasing,” another Tweet said.
Rohtak police spokesman Ved Singh Nain promised a speedy investigation into the incident that occurred on Friday. The women said the men started abusing them when they rejected their advances.
“On the bus, they made obscene gestures, touched us and abused us,” Pooja told NDTV news channel on Monday.
“We could not take it any more and started beating them. One of the men grabbed my sister’s hand and the other held me by the neck. That is when my sister took out her belt and started beating them,” she said.
Haryana Chief Minister M.L Khattar announced a cash reward for the women of 31,000 rupees ($500) each, saying he hoped the publicity would sensitise others to the issue.
“The kind of work that has been done by these two girls is praiseworthy,” Khattar told reporters. -AFP