8 men go on trial for rape, murder of 8-year-old
SRINAGAR: Eight men accused of involvement in the rape and murder of an eightyear-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state appeared in court on Monday 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.
Reports of torture, rape and murder of another child have emerged from Mr 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, Mr Modi assured the country on Friday that the guilty would not be shielded, but he has been criticised for failing to speak out sooner.
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 Monday’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.
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.
People hold candles and placards during a candle-light protest march in Mumbai, India, against the alleged rapes in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir states.