|Asifa Bano (8) gang-raped & killed by 8 Hindu men.|
But the gang rape, torture and death of a Muslim girl in Indian-controlled Kashmir has seen far different protests: Thousands of members of a radical Hindu group with links to the ruling party have marched to demand the release of the six men accused in the repeated rape and killing of the girl inside a Hindu temple. Hundreds of Hindu lawyers have protested that the men, two of them police officers, are innocent.
Swati Maliwal, chief of Delhi Commission for Women, said Friday she will begin an indefinite fast from to demand better security for women and children across the country, BBC News reports. The girl, who was savaged in the attacks, had enormous eyes, a quiet smile and one name: Asifa. The Associated Press doesn't usually identify victims of sexual violence but her name has been widely reported in the Indian media.
There have always been differences between India's Muslim minority and Hindu majority in this constitutionally secular nation of 1.3 billion. Violence has flared sporadically over the decades since India gained freedom from Britain in 1947, sparking bloody religious riots as the subcontinent was partitioned to create largely Hindu India and largely Muslim Pakistan.
For the most part, though, day-to-day interactions between Hindus and Muslim have been largely peaceful. But that polite distance has widened into a schism since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, was swept into power in a decisive election victory. India's religious minorities, especially the Muslims who form 13 percent of the population, have felt increasingly isolated since then, as attacks by Hindu extremist groups have risen.
So it was in Kathua, the small town in Jammu-Kashmir state where the girl was attacked. Police say the attack had been planned for over a month as a way to terrify the Bakarwals, a Muslim community of nomadic herders, into leaving the area.
Conflict had been brewing in recent years between Muslim nomads and local Hindus over land disputes. Hindus claimed the herders were encroaching on their lands. There had been scuffles after nomadic girls had been allegedly harassed by Hindu men.
Kashmir has over 1 million nomadic herders, including the Bakarwals, who mainly tend flocks of sheep, goats and horses. For centuries they have migrated every summer to highland pastures and forests, and returned to the plains of Jammu in winter to graze their animals, living in temporary shelters.
But over the past 20 years some have begun settling in permanent homes, usually built in forests, sparking conflicts with people already living in those areas. "For some time now the tensions have been high between Muslims and some Hindus" in the area around Kathua, said Javaid Rahi, who runs Jammu-Kashmir Tribal Foundation, a nonprofit group studying the state's nomadic people.
"The crisis has especially deepened since the BJP has come to the power and some fanatic Hindus in Jammu have communally polarized the atmosphere," he said. Police say the attack on Asifa was rooted in religious politics, with a group of local men planning to scare away the Bakarwals by simply kidnapping a girl.
But once they had Asifa, that plan was quickly forgotten. Forensic reports say she had been drugged with anti-anxiety medication, repeatedly raped, burned, bludgeoned with a rock and strangled. Eventually, her corpse was thrown into the forest where it was found a week later.
While the 2012 New Delhi gang rape galvanized India into taking a hard look at widespread sexual violence, and pressed long-reluctant police and politicians into taking that violence seriously, the attack in Kashmir is mired in the divisive religious politics that have emerged over the last four years.
Soon after the suspects were arrested, members of the extremist Hindu Ekta Manch, or Hindu Unity Platform, marched through the streets of Jammu, the largest city in southern Kashmir, carrying a massive Indian flag, chanting "Long Live India!" and demanding that police release the men. The group has links to the ruling BJP, and two BJP lawmakers have publicly defended the accused men.
On Monday, Hindu lawyers in Kathua tried to block police from filing their investigation report at the local court. They said the police investigation was flawed and claimed the six Hindu men accused in the attack had been framed. The police were forced to call for backup before handing the report of their investigation to the judge at his home.
Six men, including two police officers, are accused of being directly involved in the attacks on Asifa. One of those policemen also allegedly joined in the search for her body. Two other policemen were arrested for attempts to destroy evidence.
The case has drawn sharp reactions from across the country. "Too many BJP supporters seem willing to abandon their tough stand on sexual violence on the basis of religious prejudice. The police allege Asifa's rape and murder was part of an effort to drive the Muslim community away from the area. Yet, for the local lawyers and other BJP supporters, the Hindu suspects and the Muslim victim were grounds for blocking prosecution of the case," Human Rights Watch said in a statement Wednesday.
The politics over a child's rape and killing has upset many of the area's Hindu residents too. "Politics apart, this is horrible that some people would see this horrendous crime through a religious prism to gain some mileage. It's a new low and I don't know if we can stoop any lower after this," said Girdhari Lal, a retired teacher in Jammu.
Eight in court after gang rape and killing of Muslim girl, 8, in India. The girl was repeatedly raped at a Hindu temple, where she was sedated and held captive before being bludgeoned to death.
Eight men have entered not guilty pleas following the rape and killing of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India. The men were detained after the girl's body was found battered in a forest in January, a week after she went missing while grazing her family's ponies.
The men - all Hindu - are accused of planning the child's kidnapping for more than a month in a bid to scare her Muslim nomadic tribe away from where they live, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Police said the girl was repeatedly raped at a Hindu temple, where she was sedated and held captive. She was later strangled and bludgeoned to death.
The case has sparked protests across the country and made headlines last week when thousands of members of Hindu radical group Hindu Ekta Manch - or the Hindu Unity Platform - marched in support of the accused men. Hundreds of lawyers from the local bar association also tried to prevent police entering a court to put their investigation before a judge, saying the men accused were innocent.
Six men - including two police officers - are accused of being directly involved in the attacks on the girl. One of the policemen also allegedly joined in the search for her body. Two other officers were arrested, accused of attempting to destroy evidence.
Since the case came to light, at least two politicians from India's Hindu nationalist ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have spoken in support of the men accused. Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, who attended a rally defending the men, resigned after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to bring those committing rape to justice.
"They have resigned because of the way the entire thing has been presented across the country. They have been victimised," said Balbir Singh, a spokesman for Mr Singh. A political storm now appears to be brewing after Mr Modi addressed the growing unrest in India over violence against women and girls.
He reportedly said: "I want to assure the country that no culprit will be spared, complete justice will be done. Our daughters will definitely get justice."
|With armed-police guards Asifa Bano's family is leaving their home.|
Rasana (India) (AFP) - There are no Muslims left in the village of Rasana, which has become a symbol of India's rape crisis after the brutal murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl blamed on Hindu men.
Police say the girl was raped and killed as part of an attempt by some of the village's majority Hindus to evict Bakarwal Muslim nomads, who graze their cattle in the hills in the summer months.
It seems to have worked: the girl's family have headed for the Kashmir hills under police protection. Other Muslim families in the community of around 100 people all left after the rape in January.
Her anonymous grave in orange earth partially covered by weeds is in a nearby village in Kathua district, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the region's main city Jammu. Media reports said Hindus in Rasana refused to allow the girl to be buried there. Jammu and Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state, but the Jammu region in the south is dominated by Hindus.
Hindus and Muslims had lived together relatively peacefully in Rasana until the killing, though each side had made sporadic police complaints about the other, according to official documents. The rape went virtually unnoticed in India until Hindu lawyers staged protests outside a Jammu court last week trying to stop police registering the charge sheet. Hindu right-wing groups say the investigation is biased.
The release of horrific details of the murder of the girl, whose identity cannot be disclosed by law, made national headlines and sparked protests against the lack of action on sexual violence in India. The eruption of anger has reminded many of the outrage and demonstrations triggered by the fatal gang-rape of a Delhi student on a bus in 2012 that also made headlines around the world.
In Rasana, the village's few remaining inhabitants are reluctant to speak to outsiders. "Since all this happened, the village has emptied," according to 39-year-old Yash Paul Sharma, a rare resident willing to talk.
He said Rasana had gone through a "nightmare" as the place of the killing and the intense scrutiny it has faced since. The main accused in the case is Sanji Ram, a leader of the rustic pink temple in Rasana where the girl was allegedly held captive.
A minor and a local police constable are among those charged with the killing, while three police officials have been charged with accepting bribes to cover up the case. Outside the temple, a group of six Muslims had driven six hours from Punjab state in an effort to donate money to the girl's family.
The killing reflects the hostility encouraged by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said Mubeen Farooqi, head of the group. "But now India's mind is changing with this episode and everyone stands against this sick mentality," he said.
Two members of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party resigned as ministers in the Kashmir state government after being filmed taking part in protests against the arrests of the eight Hindus in the case.
The rape has sent tensions escalating, with near daily protests in Jammu and other cities across India calling for justice. On Tuesday, authorities cut internet connections across Jammu because of fears of demonstrations.
The few Muslims who have remained in villages around Rasana are worried. Kaniza Begum, a mother of six, is fearful of allowing her 10-year-old daughter to play in the nearby fields. "She is no longer allowed outside. If she goes to school, her brother escorts her."