Muslim rape-murder case in India disrupted by Hindu groups
When police in northern India went to court to lodge a charge sheet on Monday, they were confronted by dozens of lawyers determined to keep them out.
The lawyers were Hindus. The charges, which police managed to lodge only after calling backup, implicated eight men in the rape and murder of a Muslim child.
The killing of eight year-old Asifa Bano, details of which were released on Wednesday, and ongoing efforts by Hindu groups to disrupt the police investigation have sickened many Indians and deepened concerns about a growing sense of impunity among religious nationalists.
Asifa, a member of a nomadic Muslim tribe, was grazing horses on 10 January in Kathua, a district of Jammu and Kashmir state, when a farmhand lured her away. She was confined in a small Hindu temple, drugged, raped for five days by a group of men and killed with a rock.
Police allege the crime was intricately planned by Sanji Ram, the temple custodian, who they say agreed to pay local officers 500,000 rupees (£5,400) to create false evidence that would lead investigators away from him and his men.
Ram had been a staunch opponent of the settlement of the Muslim tribe, known as the Bakarwals, in the area, and saw Bano as a soft target in a plot to frighten the group into leaving, police said.
The arrest of Ram, his men and several police officers quickly took on religious overtones in Jammu where, as in other parts of India, rightwing Hindu groups have become increasingly active.
In February, state ministers and senior officials from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) helped to form a protest group that marched through Kathua waving Indian flags and demanding the release of one of the accused officers.
They argue that because some of the investigating officers in the case are Muslim, they cannot be trusted to be impartial. They called for the case to be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, an agency overseen by the national government.
The prime minister, Narendra Modi, a staunch Hindu nationalist, is yet to comment on the case or the involvement of his party’s ministers and officials in protests in support of some of the accused men. On Thursday he and other senior BJP officials were holding a daylong fast in protest at obstruction by the opposition in the Indian parliament.
Criminal cases have been registered against more than 40 lawyers for trying to prevent the police from filing the charges on Monday. The district bar association released a statement in support of the protests, saying the government had failed in “understanding the sentiments of the people”.
Violence between Muslims and Hindus, and between Hindu castes, has been commonplace in the seven decades since Indian independence. Modi’s critics say his rise to power has emboldened extremists who share his Hindu nationalist ideology.
In December, a Rajasthan man ranted about Hindu nationalist causes as he filmed himself killing a Muslim migrant labourer using a pickaxe. Last month a Hindu religious procession in Jodhpur city included a float that appeared to honour the killer.
Ranjana Kumari, an activist and the director of the Centre for Social Research, said the silence about Asifa’s murder from national political leaders was horrendous. “It is for political advantage with an election year in 2019,” she said. “It really is the lowest thing.”
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