Group ac­cused of rape, mur­der plead not guilty

Case ig­nites moral out­rage, mass demon­stra­tions

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

NEW DELHI, In­dia, April 16, (Agen­cies): Eight men ac­cused of rap­ing and mur­der­ing an eight-year-old girl pleaded not guilty Mon­day to the hor­rific crime that has sparked re­vul­sion and brought thou­sands to In­dia’s streets in protest.

Four po­lice and a Hindu tem­ple cus­to­dian are among those ac­cused of gang rap­ing and killing a Mus­lim girl from a poor tribe in Jammu and Kash­mir state where the high­ly­charged case has stoked long-sim­mer­ing re­li­gious ten­sions.

The ac­cused men ap­peared in court in the city of Kathua on Mon­day for the first time since be­ing ar­rested in Fe­bru­ary for the girl’s mur­der.

Ankur Sharma, a lawyer for the ac­cused, said the men had pleaded not guilty were will­ing to take a lie-de­tec­tor test. The court ad­journed the case for pro­ce­dural rea­sons, he added.

“The court has di­rected that chargesheet copies should be pro­vided to all the ac­cused. The next date of hear­ing is April 28,” Sharma told re­porters.

The girl was kid­napped, drugged and raped over five days at the Hindu tem­ple in Jan­uary be­fore be­ing stran­gled and blud­geoned with a rock.

The case ig­nited moral out­rage and mass demon­stra­tions across In­dia af­ter de­tails of her grue­some death were made pub­lic by po­lice last week.

The tem­ple’s cus­to­dian, re­tired pub­lic ser­vant Sanji Ram, is ac­cused of con­spir­ing with four po­lice of­fi­cers, a friend, his son and a ju­ve­nile nephew to kill the girl and de­stroy cru­cial ev­i­dence.

Scenes of lawyers try­ing to stop po­lice from en­ter­ing court to file charges against the ac­cused — all Hin­dus — evoked dis­gust and a warn­ing from In­dia’s high­est court against any at­tempts to ob­struct jus­tice.

The case has height­ened fears of com­mu­nal ten­sions in Jammu and Kash­mir, In­dia’s only Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity state.

The ac­cused al­legedly plot­ted the crime to drive the no­madic Mus­lim com­mu­nity from a part of Jammu, a south­ern re­gion that is Hindu dom­i­nated.

Mus­lim ac­tivists have con­demned what they see as a crime against their com­mu­nity and some Hindu groups have ar­gued that the ac­cused had been un­fairly charged.

On Mon­day, a lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the vic­tim’s fam­ily filed a pe­ti­tion in the Supreme Court, re­quest­ing the trial be re­lo­cated from the restive state.

The lawyer, Deepika Singh Ra­jawat, said she had been re­ceiv­ing death threats for “dar­ing to pur­sue the case”.

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that the me­dia must not re­veal the girl’s iden­tity in their re­port­ing of the case.

Two state min­is­ters from Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have re­signed af­ter at­tend­ing a rally in de­fence of the ac­cused.

The rul­ing party has also been ac­cused of try­ing to shield one of its state law­mak­ers in Ut­tar Pradesh af­ter a 17-year-old girl ac­cused the pow­er­ful politi­cian of rap­ing her last year.

Kuldeep Singh Sen­gar was only ar­rested last week, de­spite the girl’s fam­ily try­ing to file charges against him for nearly a year.

The two cases have stirred mem­o­ries of the mass demon­stra­tions that fol­lowed the gang rape and mur­der of a stu­dent in New Delhi in 2012.

The crime at­tracted in­ter­na­tional head­lines and saw rape laws over­hauled but high num­bers of as­saults per­sist, with 40,000 rape cases re­ported ev­ery year.

In re­lated news, days af­ter a law­maker from In­dia’s rul­ing party was ar­rested in con­nec­tion with a teenager’s rape, a sex­ual at­tack on an 11-year-old girl was re­ported on Sun­day in Gu­jarat, the lat­est in a string of cases that have sparked protests across the coun­try.

Protests call­ing for jus­tice were held in sev­eral cities, echo­ing the mass ral­lies against sex­ual vi­o­lence in 2012 and pil­ing pres­sure on Modi, who must hold elec­tions by May 2019. Modi has promised to take ac­tion.

Ac­tivists ac­cuse au­thor­i­ties of fail­ing to pro­tect women and of mov­ing too slowly to in­ves­ti­gate and ar­rest per­pe­tra­tors.

The protests were fu­elled in part by the ar­rest of a law­maker from the Bharatiya Janata Party last week in con­nec­tion with the rape of a teenager in the north­ern state of Ut­tar Pradesh, which the rul­ing party gov­erns.

In the south­ern city of Thiruvananthapuram, pro­test­ers formed a hu­man chain, while in Mum­bai, hun­dreds, in­clud­ing film celebri­ties, called for the death penalty for rapists. In New Delhi they called for rape tri­als to be com­pleted in six months.

In the west­ern Gu­jarati city of Su­rat, where the lat­est case took place, men and women held a silent can­dle­light march. Gu­jarat is Modi’s home state, where he was the Chief Min­is­ter from 2001 un­til he took na­tional of­fice in 2014.

“The body was re­cov­ered on April 6 by the side of a high­way and, ac­cord­ing to a post mortem re­port, the girl was sex­u­ally as­saulted and mur­dered on April 5,” Su­rat’s po­lice com­mis­sioner, Satish Sharma, told Reuters.

He said the vic­tim — who was 11 years old, ac­cord­ing to the post-mortem — had not yet been iden­ti­fied and that po­lice from neigh­bour­ing states have been asked to help find her fam­ily.

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