8 men go on trial for rape, mur­der of 8-year-old

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

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.

EPA

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.

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