A court in north India sentenced three Hindu men, including a police officer to life in prison on Monday over the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl that stirred nationwide outrage and religious rivalries.
The case brings to light India’s disturbing record of violence against women and children, and drew criticism of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after some members criticized police for pressing charges.
“This is a victory of truth,” said prosecution lawyer M Farooqi after the convictions.
“The girl and her family have got justice today.”
Three other police officers were sentenced to five years in prison by Judge Tejwinder Singh for destroying evidence, prosecutor Santokh Singh told reporters.
The girl, who was from a nomadic Muslim community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was reportedly kidnapped in January 2018 when she was grazing her family’s ponies in the forests of the Himalayan foothills.
She was drugged, held captive in a temple and raped for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January 2018. Her mutilated body was found in the woods a week later.
The prosecution had asked for death penalty for the three men – including a Hindu priest – who received life in prison.
The girl’s father, Mohammed Akhtar, told AP by phone that the men should be “punished speedily, not just convicted.” “Our family has gone through hell,” he said. “Our hearts are bleeding. These beasts should be hanged.”
There are frequent cases of rape against women and children in India and outrage over the so-called Kathua case contributed to the introduction of death penalty for child rapists by the government.
Investigators are of the opinion that the muslim girl was targeted in order to put fear in her tribe and drive them out of the community.