LUCKNOW    -   Two children from India’s lowest caste were beaten to death by two men after they defecated outside, officials and relatives said on Thursday, in the latest case of communal violence in the country.

Rajesh Chandel, superintendent of police in Shivpuri, a district in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, told Reuters the children, identified as 12-year-old girl Roshni and her nephew Avinash, a 10-year-old boy, were attacked at around 0630 local time on Wednesday.

The children’s family told BBC Hindi that they have no toilet at home.

Millions of poor Indians defecate in the open, which especially puts women and children at risk. Dalits are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system and despite laws to protect them, they still face widespread discrimination in India.

Two men, whom Chandel identified as Hakam Singh and Rameshwar Singh, have been arrested, he said. “The accused are mentally stable and during the interrogation they have said they committed this crime,” Chandel said, adding the investigation was continuing.

Within hours of the attack early on Wednesday morning, police arrested two upper-caste men - Rameshwar Yadav and Hakim Yadav. Roshni and Avinash were cousins, but Roshni had been brought up by Avinash’s parents and lived with them. It was not possible to reach the accused or their representatives for comment.

The two children belonged to what are known officially as “scheduled castes”, but also called “Dalits”, or “untouchables” for their position in India’s ancient caste hierarchy.

Discrimination on the basis of caste is illegal but still widespread in India, especially in rural areas where hundreds of millions of people live. Both Chandel and Avinash’s father, Manoj Balmiki, said the murders followed an earlier verbal altercation between the two families where “casteist slurs” were used by the accused.