Eight Hindu men have pleaded not guilty to the charges that they gang-raped and murdered an eight-year-old Asifa Bano. The murder of Bano, who is Muslim and belongs to a nomadic community, has increased religious tensions between in Muslims and Hindus across India but especially the Kashmir town of Kathua.
According to the Police report, Bano was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and beaten to death with a stone in January.
The judge adjourned the first hearing of the case Monday to hear a petition from the lawyer of the Bano's family, which asked for the matter to be moved from their hometown, due to threats received by family members from the sect the men accused of Bano's rape and murder belong.
India's top court on Monday also requested that the Jammu and Kashmir government provide security to the family of Bano, along with the lawyer working on the case as they have faced death threats with increasing pressure mounting on the authorities to solve the case.
"I was threatened yesterday (Sunday) that ‘we will not forgive you’. I am going to tell the supreme court that I am in danger,” said Deepika Singh Rawat, a lawyer who has actively sought an investigation into the case since the girl’s body was found in January.
"As an interim measure, it is directed that the Jammu and Kashmir Police beef up the security and provide adequate security personnel to the family, Deepika Singh Rajawat and family friend Talid Hussain," the court said.
The Crime Branch of police which probed the case filed the main charge sheet against seven people and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district. Viewing the chasm between the Hindus and the Muslims over the case, the Jammu and Kashmir government has appointed two special public prosecutors, both Sikhs, another Indian religious sect, to ensure "neutrality" in the case.
India's opposition party, Congress, has asked citizens to observe "Black Day" Tuesday to condemn the violence against women and the two recent rapes, the Uttar Pradesh's Unnao rape case, and the Kathua rape case, which have left the nation outraged.
"Be it the case of a teenage victim in UP's Unnao or the story of Asifa, the eight-year-old girl in Kathua who was gang-raped for seven days and then killed, the BJP has failed to provide the common minimum need of safety to women across the country. The graph of crimes against women has gone up in India and BJP ruled states and thus, the Congress party will observe April 17 as the black day against this trend," Sushmita Dev, president All India Mahila Congress, (Women's wing of the Congress) told the Times of India.
On Monday, 49 former high-ranking civil servants penned a scathing letter to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticizing the right-wing, nationalist government's weak response to the heinous gang rape and murder of Bano.
Referring to the rape and murder of Asifa, the letter said it was a "moment of existential crisis," the "darkest hour" in "post-Independence India."