By Zahid Rafiq
SRIANAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) – Eight men accused of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in the Jammu and Kashmir region appeared for the first hearing at the Jammu High Court on Monday. All of the accused pleaded not guilty to the crime and the court adjourned the case until April 28, when the next hearing will be held.
Raped and murdered in January, the minor girl’s case has created furor over the past two weeks after members of the majority Hindu community in the Kathua district where the crime happened organized and took part in rallies in support of the eight accused. All of the eight culprits are Hindu men, and the case and the support to the accused have revealed the deep communalization against the Muslims in the region. Those who participated in the rallies supporting the offenders included the High Court’s lawyer and two sitting state ministers.
According to the charge sheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in the Jammu High Court, the eight-year-old girl was raped and murdered to scare her nomadic Muslim community into leaving the Hindu-majority region. The girl was held captive and raped for seven days inside a Hindu temple, and, according to the police, the mastermind of the rape, 60-year-old Sanjhi Ram, was the custodian of the temple.
Before the trial on Monday, Deepika Singh, the lawyer representing the family of the victim said she had been threatened with rape and death for taking up the case. She requested for the trial to be held outside Jammu and Kashmir.
"I was threatened yesterday that 'we will not forgive you'. I am going to tell the Supreme Court that I am in danger," Singh told the media.
Two days ago, Talib Hussain, a lawyer-activist at the forefront of the group seeking justice for the victim, was attacked in the Udhampur area of Jammu. Police said that they are investigating the matter.
The police had arrested Hussain earlier on Jan. 21 for leading a rally against the local authorities for failing to arrest the girl’s murderers and allegedly hushing up the case.
The victim’s family too has complained of the media and the government waking up to their tragedy three months late.
The victim's father has approached the Supreme Court requesting safety and security and the transfer of the case outside Jammu and Kashmir to a court in the nearby Chandiagrh state. The Indian Supreme Court is set to hear the matter later today.
Two ministers from the right wing Hinduvta Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power in India and also part of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, resigned after being denounced for joining a rally in support of the accused men last month.