Eight on trial for rape, mur­der of Kash­miri girl

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

SRINAGAR: Eight men ac­cused of in­volve­ment in the rape and mur­der of an eight-year-old Mus­lim girl in In­dia’s Jammu and Kash­mir state ap­peared in court yes­ter­day for the first hear­ing in a case that sparked na­tion­wide out­rage and crit­i­cism of the rul­ing party. The girl, from a no­madic com­mu­nity that roams the forests of Kash­mir, was drugged, held cap­tive in a Hindu tem­ple and sex­u­ally as­saulted for a week be­fore be­ing stran­gled and bat­tered to death with a stone in Jan­uary, po­lice said.

Pub­lic anger at the crime led to protests in cities across In­dia over the past few days, with out­rage fu­elled by sup­port for the ac­cused ini­tially shown by state gov­ern­ment min­is­ters from Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The protests have also fo­cused on an­other rape al­legedly in­volv­ing a BJP law­maker in crime-rid­den Ut­tar Pradesh, a poor north­ern state with the coun­try’s big­gest pop­u­la­tion.

The out­rage has drawn par­al­lels with mas­sive protests that fol­lowed the gang rape and mur­der of a woman on a Delhi bus in 2012, which forced the then Congress-led gov­ern­ment to en­act tough new rape laws in­clud­ing the death penalty. Yet In­dia has long been plagued by vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren - re­ported rapes climbed 60 per­cent from 2012 to 40,000 in 2016, and many

more go un­re­ported, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas. Re­ports of tor­ture, rape and mur­der of an­other child have emerged from Modi’s west­ern home state of Gu­jarat.

In that case, the corpse of a girl was found near a cricket ground in the city of Su­rat a week ago. The post-mortem showed she had been tor­tured and sex­u­ally as­saulted be­fore be­ing stran­gled. The body had 86 in­jury marks, in­clud­ing some in­flicted to her gen­i­talia with hard, blunt ob­jects, while more mi­nor in­juries sug­gest she had been beaten with a stick or slapped. Doc­tors es­ti­mate that the uniden­ti­fied girl was about 12, po­lice said.

As the groundswell of re­vul­sion grew, Modi as­sured the coun­try on Fri­day that the guilty would not be shielded, but he has been crit­i­cized for fail­ing to speak out sooner. Be­fore leav­ing for an of­fi­cial visit to Europe this week, Modi re­ceived a let­ter from 50 for­mer po­lice chiefs, am­bas­sadors and se­nior civil ser­vants up­braid­ing the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship over its weak re­sponse. “The bes­tial­ity and the bar­bar­ity in­volved in the rape and mur­der of an eight-year-old child shows the depths of de­prav­ity that we have sunk into,” the for­mer of­fi­cials said. “In post-In­de­pen­dence In­dia, this is our dark­est hour and we find the re­sponse of our gov­ern­ment, the lead­ers of our po­lit­i­cal par­ties in­ad­e­quate and fee­ble.”

The let­ter went fur­ther by blam­ing the BJP and like­minded right-wing Hindu groups for pro­mot­ing a cul­ture of “ma­jori­tar­ian bel­liger­ence and ag­gres­sion” in Jammu, and in the Ut­tar Pradesh case it blasted the party for us­ing feu­dal strong­men, who be­have like gang­sters, to shore up its rule. The for­mer of­fi­cials said they held no po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion other than to up­hold the val­ues of In­dia’s sec­u­lar con­sti­tu­tion that guar­an­tees equal rights to all cit­i­zens. Some of the sig­na­to­ries have spo­ken out in the past also against Modi’s Hindu na­tion­al­ist party ac­cus­ing it of whip­ping up hos­til­ity to­wards In­dia’s 172 mil­lion Mus­lims.

In 2012, vot­ers ousted the Congress chief min­is­ter of Delhi be­cause of the fall­out from the rape case. This time, Congress was quick to re­al­ize the mood of the coun­try, with party leader Rahul Gandhi lead­ing the first ma­jor protest in the cap­i­tal last week. Yes­ter­day, Gandhi tweeted that there had been nearly 20,000 child rapes in In­dia in 2016, and urged Modi to fast­track prose­cu­tions “if he is se­ri­ous about pro­vid­ing ‘jus­tice for our daugh­ters’”.

Though the rape and killing of the girl in Kash­mir had been known about for months, the back­lash erupted af­ter the charge sheet giv­ing grue­some de­tails of the crime was filed last week. It al­leged that the at­tack was part of a plan to drive the no­mads out of Kathua district in Jammu, the mostly Hindu por­tion of In­dia’s only Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity state. The al­leged ring­leader of the cam­paign, re­tired bu­reau­crat Sanji Ram, looked af­ter a small tem­ple where the girl had been held and as­saulted. Two of the eight on trial are po­lice of­fi­cers who stand ac­cused of be­ing bribed to sti­fle the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Af­ter yes­ter­day’s ini­tial hear­ing in Srinagar, the judge ad­journed the case un­til April 28 while the Supreme Court heard a pe­ti­tion from the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the vic­tim’s fam­ily to have the trial held else­where due to fears for her safety. Ahead of the trial, the lawyer said she had been threat­ened with rape and death for tak­ing up the case. “I was threat­ened yes­ter­day that ‘we will not for­give you’. I am go­ing to tell Supreme Court that I am in dan­ger,” said the lawyer, Deepika Singh Rawat, who has fought for a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion since the girl’s body was found in Jan­uary.

The Supreme Court is con­sid­er­ing trans­fer­ring the trial to Chandi­garh in Pun­jab state, and has or­dered se­cu­rity for both the lawyer and the vic­tim’s fam­ily af­ter her fa­ther said he too feared for their safety. Two min­is­ters from the BJP, which shares power in Jammu and Kash­mir, were forced to re­sign af­ter be­ing pil­lo­ried for join­ing a rally in sup­port of the ac­cused men. — Reuters

— AFP

SRINAGAR: Stu­dents of the All Ladakh As­so­ci­a­tion of Kash­mir hold plac­ards and shout slo­gans dur­ing a protest yes­ter­day call­ing for jus­tice fol­low­ing the re­cent rape and mur­der of an eight-year-old girl.

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