The rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl has inflamed religious tensions between Muslims and Hindus in India, and sparked protests across the country.
According to CNN, the young victim belonged to a group of nomadic Muslims called the Bakarwals, who move between Muslim and Hindu-dominated regions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The girl was reportedly abducted in January while grazing cattle in the town of Kathua, where Hindus are the majority population. Authorities say she was then taken to a Hindu temple, drugged and raped repeatedly by several men who held her captive for five days.
The girl’s body was found in a remote forested region in late January. A police report says the child was strangled to death, and then bludgeoned with a large stone.
Eight men have been arrested in connection with the brutal crime, among them three police officers, a retired government official, and a temple caretaker. All of the accused are Hindu.
Though the Bakarwals have long traveled between Kashmir and Jammu, the number of Muslims in Jammu has increased recently due to an influx of Rohingya refugees in India. Hindu farmers reportedly claim that Muslim nomads are encroaching on their land.
According to CNN, police say that the accused “plotted the girl’s abduction as a means of scaring the predominantly-Muslim nomads into vacating the region.” But critics, among them legal professionals and Hindu nationalists, have questioned the impartiality of the investigators — who are Muslim. The Times of India reports that the Bar Association of Jammu claims “the probe by the crime branch of Jammu and Kashmir Police was done on questionable line amid threats and coercion by a team of officers from Kashmir Valley including one who served a jail term for alleged rape and murder of a minor.”
The state bar association and the Hindu Unity Council, a right-wing group, have called for India’s Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the investigation.
But others have accused local lawyers of trying to block the filing of the charge sheet in this case, with the intention of obstructing a police investigation. “An 8-year-old girl was raped and murdered and when the police tried to file a charge sheet, they were stopped by the Jammu Bar association coming together,” advocate Mihir Desai said at a Mumbai protest that drew hundreds. “I have not seen anything like this before, at least in India.”
Amid the heated atmosphere stirred up by the crime, the child’s family has asked that the trial be moved outside of Jammu and Kashmir. “We are apprehensive that the trial will not happen peacefully, seeing the condition in Jammu,” the family’s lawyer said, according to NDTV. For more on the story, watch the video below.