Jammu and Kashmir: the gang rape of Asifa Bano, 8, sparks outrage

The girl, the daughter of a Muslim shepherd, went missing 10 January. A week later, she was found dead with signs of torture. Police have arrested eight people, including a former government official and four policemen, in connection with the crime. two Hindu ministers have defended the rapists.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The death of a little Muslim girl – who was abducted, raped and murdered – has sparked outrage, discouragement, and criticism, especially on social media, against the evils that harm children.

Asifa Bano, 8, was abducted on 10 January in Kathua, near the city of Jammu, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Her lifeless body was found a week later in a forest.

The case came to light only recently and has sent shockwaves throughout the state and country, raising the visibility of sectarian divisions between Hindus and Muslims who live in Kashmir valley as well as the issue of violence against women and children.

The crime has pushed politicians and civil society groups to react. Many messages of condolences were posted on social media with the hashtags #Kathua and #JusticeforAsifa, as the trending topics.

Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi also waded into issue, organising a silent vigil to mourn the slain child.

Various events are planned this the week-end in the capital, Delhi, and other Indian cities.

Another hashtag also appeared on social media yesterday, #Unnao, to highlight another case of sexual violence, this time against a 16-year-old girl, by a MP with the Bharatiya Janata Party BJP) in Uttar Pradesh last year.

This case too became front-page news only a week ago when the victim tried to commit suicide in front of the residence of chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

In Asifa’s case, police found that she was held prisoner for several days in a Hindu temple in Kathua, drugged, raped repeatedly, and finally strangled and hit twice on the head with a stone.

Her only fault was that she was a Gujjar (Gurjar), a pastoral agricultural Muslim group who crisscross the Himalayas with their herds of goats and buffaloes, provoking the wrath of sedentary groups.

Police arrested eight people in connection with the murder. Sanji Ram, a 60-year-old retired government officer, allegedly planned the crime with the help of police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Mr Khajuria.

Mr Ram's son, Vishal, his nephew, a juvenile, and his friend, Parvesh Kumar, are also accused over the rape and murder.

Investigators allege that Mr Khajuria and the other police officers tampered with the evidence, washing Asifa's bloodied and mud-spattered clothes before sending them to a forensic lab.

Emotions reached a fevered pitch when two Hindu ministers from the BJP, which runs the Indian state in coalition with the People's Democratic Party (PDP), defended the rapists in a demonstration organised to show support.

Ankur Sharma, one of the lawyers who protested on behalf of the accused, has alleged that Muslim nomads are trying to alter the demographics of Jammu, where Hindus are currently the majority. Asifa’s abduction was meant to scare off Gujjars and drive them out of the territory.

The crime’s brutality has enraged the nomads, and led them to compare the child’s case with another one, namely the gang rape of Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old medical student, who was attacked on a Delhi bus and died in Singapore after two weeks of agony.