NEW DELHI — Last year, an 8-year-old girl was raped and murdered in a case that sparked a nationwide furor and inflamed tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
In the wake of the 8-year-old’s murder, India passed legislation making the rape of girls under the age of 12 punishable by death.
Now, an Indian court convicted six men for their involvement in the abduction, rape and murder of the girl. Prosecutors asked for the death penalty for three of those convicted. A defense lawyer said Monday that the verdict would be appealed.
India has struggled with a series of horrifying cases of rape and murder involving children in recent years, and authorities are taking increasingly harsh measures against the culprits.
Official statistics show that incidents of rape are increasing in India, although it is unclear how much of the rise is due to more reporting of such cases. Advocates say that the majority of rape cases remain unreported.
The case of Asifa Bano in the state of Jammu and Kashmir gained national attention both for the gruesome nature of the crime and the response it elicited from local members of India’s ruling party, some of whom protested the charges against the accused.
Early last year, Bano, who belonged to a nomadic Muslim community, went missing from a village in the district of Kathua, which is in the Hindu-dominated area of Jammu. By contrast, the Kashmir valley portion of the state has a Muslim majority.
Days later, her body was found in a forest where she would often go to tend to her family’s horses.
The investigation revealed that the girl had been sedated, gang-raped, strangled with her own scarf and her head bashed with a rock. The brutality took place over four days in a small Hindu shrine.
State prosecutor J.K. Chopra said the crime was a “barbaric act” that deserved the death penalty.
Eight men were arrested for the crime, including one juvenile whose trial will be held separately. The police charged Sanji Ram, a retired government clerk, with plotting the crime as part of a plan to rid the area of the Muslim nomads.
On Monday, three men — including Ram and one police officer — were convicted of the rape and murder while a fourth was acquitted. Three other police officers were found guilty of helping to destroy evidence of the crime.
Outrage over the murder was soon overshadowed by controversial rallies that took place in support of those accused. Two local members of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, participated in such protests. In one instance, lawyers physically tried to block police officers from filing the charges, claiming that Hindus were being unfairly targeted.
The girl’s family approached India’s Supreme Court for protection, saying they had received threats to their lives. The top court moved the trial to the neighboring state of Punjab. The proceeding began in May last year and was closed to the media.
No media was allowed into the courtroom for the verdict, and members of Bano’s family were not in attendance. Outside, there was a heavy security presence including armored vehicles and teams of police officers in case of unrest.