SRINAGAR – An eight-year-old girl was raped and murdered in India by a gang of Hindus trying to scare away a nomadic tribe group to which she belonged.
Police in the occupied Kashmir valley say the attack in January on Asifa Bano had been planned for over a month as a way to terrify the Bakarwals, a Muslim community of nomadic herders, into leaving the area.
The brutal gang rape and murder has triggered nationwide outrage, inflamed communal tensions and exposed the deep cultural divides which still exist between Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir.
Bano was grazing her family’s ponies in the forests of the Himalayan foothills when she was kidnapped Asifa from a village around 45 miles east of Jammu city on January 10. Her raped and mutilated body was found in the woods a week later.
According to investigators, Asifa was confined in a local Hindu temple for several days.
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.
Seven men and one child have been arrested – including retired government official Sanji Ram, 60, and four police officers.
One of those policemen also allegedly joined in the search for her body. Two other policemen were arrested for attempts to destroy evidence.
According to the charge sheet Ram asked his nephew to kidnap the girl who often came to the forests behind their house for grazing her horses.
The nephew saw the girl asking about her horse and he led her into the forest telling her they were there.
But Asifa sensed trouble and tried to flee, the charges say, and the ‘juvenile caught her by her neck and covered her mouth with one of his hands as she fell on the ground’.
She was then raped by him and other men joined in before she was taken to the temple, where she was kept her inside a prayer hall under the table, covering her with the plastic mats, the charged sheet reads.
The death and police investigation has promoted fierce protests across Kashmir, India, between Hindus and Muslims.
Soon after the suspects were arrested, members of the extremist Hindu Ekta Manch, or Hindu Unity Platform, marched through the streets of Jammu arrying a massive Indian flag, chanting ‘Long Live India!’ and demanding that police release the men.
At one point, a crowd of Hindu lawyers tried to stop police from entering a court to file charges against the accused men.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, head of the Hindu nationalist government, has yet to comment on the case, but the Indian-held Kashmir’s chief minister, whose party is aligned with Modi’s, said the murder had “shamed humanity”.
The Supreme Court of India has taken notice of the incident and decided to examine it of its own accord, according to Times of India. The country’s apex court has also sent a notice to Indian-held Kashmir’s bar council for trying to stop the filing of charge sheet against the accused.
Kashmir has over 1 million nomadic herders, including the Bakarwals, who mainly tend flocks of sheep, goats and horses.
High profile names from the world of cinema and cricket have also voiced outrage over the crimes in a country where nearly 40,000 rape cases are reported every year, according to official figures.
Imagine what goes through the mind of an 8 yr old as she is drugged, held captive, gang raped over days and then murdered.
If you don’t feel her terror, you are not human.
If you don’t demand Asifa get justice, you belong to nothing.
— Farhan Akhtar (@FarOutAkhtar) April 12, 2018
“What is happening to the world we live in???” Bollywood star Anushka Sharma, who is married to Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli, wrote on Twitter.
The cruelest form of evil is harming an innocent child. What is happening to the world we live in??? These people should be given the most severe punishment there is! Where are we heading as humanity?
Shaken to my core.#JusticeforAsifa
— Anushka Sharma (@AnushkaSharma) April 12, 2018
“These people should be given the most severe punishment there is! Where are we heading as humanity? Shaken to my core,” she said.
Cricketer Gautam Gambhir blamed India’s “stinking systems” for what some have described as a rape epidemic.
Indian consciousness was raped in Unnao and then in Kathua. It’s now being murdered in corridors of our stinking systems. Come on ‘Mr System’, show us if you have the balls to punish the perpetrators, I challenge you. #KathuaMurderCase #UnnaoRapeCase
— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) April 12, 2018
“Come on ‘Mr System’, show us if you have the balls to punish the perpetrators, I challenge you,” he tweeted.
Rahul Gandhi, the chief of the main opposition Congress party, led a candlelight march in Delhi on Thursday night.
More protests have been planned to bring attention to brutal crimes against women in India.
The chief of Delhi Commission for Women, Swati Maliwal, has said she will be starting an indefinite fast from Friday to demand better security for women and children in the country.
Several other activists and women have also planned protests in Delhi and other parts of the country over the weekend.