(Reuters) – Eight men accused of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in occupied Kashmir state appeared in court on Monday for the first hearing in a case that sparked nationwide outrage and criticism of the ruling party.
The girl, from a nomadic community that roams the forests of occupied Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January, police said.
Public anger at the crime led to protests in cities across India over the past few days, with outrage fuelled by support for the accused initially shown by ministers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
The protests have also focused on another rape allegedly involving a BJP lawmaker in the crime-ridden, most populous, poor northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The national outrage has drawn parallels with the massive protests that followed the gang rape and murder of a girl on a Delhi bus in 2012, which forced the then Congress-led government to enact tough new rape laws including the death penalty.
Yet India has long been plagued by violence against women and children – reported rapes climbed 60 percent from 2012 to 40,000 in 2016, and many more go unreported, especially in backward rural areas.