Outrage and protests followed across India after details were released by police about the case of an eight-year-old Muslim girl who was kidnapped, sedated and gang-raped by eight men in a Hindu temple in occupied Kashmir.
The bruised and battered body of Asifa Bano, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe of herders, was found in a forest on January 17 near Kathua city in occupied Kashmir.
Police said that the eight perpetrators accused in connection of raping and killing Asifa are all Hindu men who kidnapped the child on January 10 when she had gone to fetch the horses grazing on the meadow.
The BBC reported that according to investigators, Asifa was confined in a local Hindu temple for several days and given sedatives that kept her unconscious. The charge sheet alleges that she was “raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered.” She was strangled to death, hit on the head twice with a stone and then her small mutilated body was dumped in the forest.
Asifa’s mother Naseema, who had rushed to the forest along with her husband Muhammad Yusuf Pujwala to see their daughter’s body, told the BBC, “She had been tortured. Her legs were broken. Her nails had turned black and there were blue and red marks on her arm and fingers.”
Along with a former government official and an officer who was investigating the parents’ complaint about their missing daughter, two of the accused men are said to be police officers.
Others are accused of trying to cover up the crime, and four police officers have been arrested so far, said Deepika Singh Rajawat, a lawyer representing the victim’s family.
Police 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 in the Kashmir Valley, reported the Daily Mail.
Pujwala told The New York Times that he believes his daughter was killed by the Hindu men for the sole purpose of driving her people away. Asifa was the pawn. “A child of only eight years of age who … became a soft target,” police said.
The Daily Mail reported that conflict had been brewing in recent years between Muslim nomads and local Hindus over land disputes.
According to The Times of India, Sanji Ram a 60-year-old retired revenue official is the main conspirator who incited his alleged minor 15-year-old nephew, a school drop-out, to abduct the eight-year-old girl as revenge for the Bakarwals having beaten up the boy in the past.
The murder has provoked shock and anger across India, and once again exposed the deep religious and cultural divides which exist between Muslims and Hindus in occupied Kashmir and aggravated fierce protests in the region and across the country between Hindus and Muslims.
Protests and counter-protests are now spreading.
That a Hindu temple is at the center of the crime makes this case even more combustible. Hindu nationalists have turned it into a rallying cry — not calling for justice for Asifa, but rushing to the defense of the accused, said the New York Times.
Soon after the suspects were arrested, members of the extremist Hindu Ekta Manch, or Hindu Unity Platform, marched through the streets of occupied Kashmir displaying a massive Indian flag, chanting ‘Long Live India!’ and demanding that police release the men, said the Daily Mail.
This story has additions from BBC, Daily Mail, The Times of India and The New York Times.