India once again struck with rape, murder of 7-year-old, anger mounts over sexual violence

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published
This photo taken on April 15, 2018 shows Indian students in Ahmedabad protesting in support of rape victims in Jammu and Uttar Pradesh. (AFP Photo)
This photo taken on April 15, 2018 shows Indian students in Ahmedabad protesting in support of rape victims in Jammu and Uttar Pradesh. (AFP Photo)

The body of a seven-year-old girl who had been raped and strangled was found Tuesday in India, compounding outrage over a series of horrific sexual attacks on women or girls.

Nationwide protests have been held in the past week over the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the latest case, the child's body was found on a building site Tuesday morning, hours after she went missing from a wedding in the Etah district of Uttar Pradesh state.

Police said a neighbor who was putting up tents for the wedding had been detained on suspicion of luring the girl to the secluded building.

Etah superintendent of police Akhilesh Chaurasia told Agence France-Presse (AFP) the man fled but was arrested within hours.

"We have charged him with the rape and murder of the child. We are awaiting the post-mortem reports but prima facie it looks she was strangled to death," Chaurasia said.


Students of the All Ladakh Association of Kashmir hold placard and shout slogans during a protest calling for justice following the recent rape and murder case of an eight-year-old girl in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, in Srinagar on April 16, 2018. (AFP Photo)

The authorities and police face mounting pressure over a series of sexual assaults, including the Jammu and Kashmir case. That killing was in January but outrage has mounted as details of the rape emerged. Police say she was drugged and raped for days at a Hindu temple before being beaten to death. Eight men, all Hindus, have been arrested for the crime.

Police said the accused targeted the girl because they wanted to drive her nomadic Muslim tribe out of the Hindu-dominated region.

Two Jammu and Kashmir state ministers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) resigned after they attended rallies organized to defend the accused. Some activists have accused the party of siding with Hindu groups demanding the release of the arrested men.

The suspects appeared in court on Monday for the first hearing in a case that sparked nationwide outrage and criticism of the ruling party.


Indian women display placards during a protest against two recently reported rape cases as they gather near the Parliament in New Delhi, India, Sunday, April 15, 2018. (AP Photo)

The BJP government has also faced criticism after one of its legislators in crime-ridden Uttar Pradesh, a poor northern state with the country's biggest population, was arrested last week for the alleged rape of a 17-year-old woman.

The woman's father died in police custody as he agitated for the authorities to take up the case.

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.


Sikh men stand with folded hands during a special prayer session held by the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) and Damdami Taksal, for Asifa Bano, at Akaal Takhat, the highest temporal seat for the Sikhs at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, 16 April 2018. (EPA Photo)

The public 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. But 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.

On Monday, Gandhi tweeted that there had been nearly 20,000 child rapes in India in 2016, and urged Modi to fast-track 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.

A 2014 U.N. report said one in three rape victims in India was a minor. Nearly 11,000 cases of child rape were reported in India in 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau's latest figures.

Reported rapes climbed 60 percent from 2012 to 40,000 in 2016, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.


Indian Muslim people hold candles and placards during a candle-light protest march against the alleged rape cases in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, in Mumbra on the outskirts of Mumbai, India, April 16, 2018. (EPA Photo)

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 like-minded 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.


Rights activist stage a candle light vigil in solidarity with the recent rape cases in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir states and to demand swift justice and severe punishment to the accused, in Bangalore on April 16, 2018. (AFP Photo)

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.

"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.
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter