Eight go on trial as rape and murder of Kashmir girl trigger India protests
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Eight suspects went on trial in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday over the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl, a day after thousands protested across the country to seek an end to sexual violence against women.
Details of the Muslim girl’s gruesome rape and murder in Jammu and Kashmir state have made national headlines and heightened communal tensions in India’s only Muslim-majority state.
The girl was kidnapped, drugged and repeatedly raped over five days, including inside a Hindu temple, before being strangled and beaten with a rock.
Scenes of Hindu lawyers trying to stop police from entering court to file charges against the eight accused -- all Hindus -- sparked nationwide revulsion.
Two state ministers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, resigned for attending a rally by local Hindu groups in defence of the accused.
Outrage over the crime spilled on to the streets of India's capital and other cities on Sunday as thousands of people gathered to demand swift justice in cases of sexual violence.
Protesters in New Delhi carried banners demanding justice and action against those playing politics over the child's rape and killing. Many expressed particular anger at the ruling BJP for initially siding with the accused.
A young girl sat amid symbolic dolls to mourn the victim, who had been grazing her family's ponies in the forests of the Himalayan foothills when she was kidnapped.
'We will not forgive you'
Police said the attack had been planned as a way to terrify the Bakarwals, a Muslim community of nomadic herders, into leaving the area.
The alleged ringleader, retired bureaucrat Sanji Ram, looked after a small Hindu temple where the girl had been held captive and assaulted. Two of the eight on trial were police officers who are accused of being bribed to stifle the investigation.
After the initial hearing on Monday, the judge adjourned the case until April 28.
Ahead of the trial, the lawyer representing the family of the victim said she had been threatened with rape and death for taking up her case, and requested for the trial to be held outside Jammu and Kashmir.
"I was threatened yesterday that ‘we will not forgive you’. I am going to tell Supreme Court that I am in danger,” said lawyer Deepika Singh Rawat who has fought for a proper investigation since the girl's body was found in January.
It was only when the charge sheet was finally filed last week, giving details of the horrendous crime, that Indians reacted en masse.
Crimes against women on the rise
In another incident, a teenage girl accused the BJP in Uttar Pradesh state of shielding a lawmaker accused of abducting and raping her last year.
Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who denies the allegation, was finally arrested on Friday.
Violent crimes against women and girls have been on the rise in India despite tough laws enacted in 2013.
In 2012, the fatal gang rape of a young woman in the heart of New Delhi prompted hundreds of thousands of Indians to take to the streets to demand stricter rape laws.
The New Delhi attack spurred quick action on legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalising voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.
But activists say crimes of violence against women are often inadequately investigated, and in some cases accused with political connections have been protected.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)