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Muslims flee village at the centre of rape crisis

Indian PM confronted by angry protests in London


KASHMIR: Kashmiri law students hold placards during a protest calling for justice following the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in the Indian state of Jammu yesterday. —AFP

RASANA: There are no Muslims left in the village of Rasana, which has become a symbol of India’s rape crisis after the brutal murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl blamed on Hindu men. Police say the girl was raped and killed as part of an attempt by some of the village’s majority Hindus to evict Bakarwal Muslim nomads, who graze their cattle in the hills in the summer months. It seems to have worked: the girl’s family has headed for the Kashmir hills under police protection. Other Muslim families in the community of around 100 people all left after the rape in January. At the empty home of the dead girl’s family, five armed police kept guard half asleep in chairs outside. Police say the child was drugged, held captive in a Hindu temple for five days, and repeatedly raped before being beaten to death.

Her anonymous grave in orange earth partially covered by weeds is in a nearby village in Kathua district, about 60 kilometers from the region’s main city Jammu. Media reports said Hindus in Rasana refused to allow the girl to be buried there. Jammu and Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state, but the Jammu region in the south is dominated by Hindus. Hindus and Muslims had lived together relatively peacefully in Rasana until the killing, though each side had made sporadic police complaints about the other, according to official documents.

The rape went virtually unnoticed in India until Hindu lawyers staged protests outside a Jammu court last week trying to stop police registering the charge sheet. Hindu right-wing groups say the investigation is biased. The release of horrific details of the murder of the girl, whose identity cannot be disclosed by law, made national headlines and sparked protests against the lack of action on sexual violence in India. The eruption of anger has reminded many of the outrage and demonstrations triggered by the fatal gang-rape of a Delhi student on a bus in 2012 that also made headlines around the world.

‘Sick mentality’
In Rasana, the village’s few remaining inhabitants are reluctant to speak to outsiders. “Since all this happened, the village has emptied,” according to 39-year-old Yash Paul Sharma, a rare resident willing to talk.He said Rasana had gone through a “nightmare” as the place of the killing and the intense scrutiny it has faced since.

The main accused in the case is Sanji Ram, a leader of the rustic pink temple in Rasana where the girl was allegedly held captive. A minor and a local police constable are among those charged with the killing, while three police officials have been charged with accepting bribes to cover up the case. Outside the temple, a group of six Muslims had driven six hours from Punjab state in an effort to donate money to the girl’s family. The killing reflects the hostility encouraged by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said Mubeen Farooqi, head of the group. “But now India’s mind is changing with this episode and everyone stands against this sick mentality,” he said.

Two members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party resigned as ministers in the Kashmir state government after being filmed taking part in protests against the arrests of the eight Hindus in the case. The rape has sent tensions escalating, with near daily protests in Jammu and other cities across India calling for justice. On Tuesday, authorities cut internet connections across Jammu because of fears of demonstrations.

Modi confronted
Meanwhile, hundreds of noisy protesters greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he arrived in London yesterday, demonstrating over a rising tide of sexual violence at home including two particularly brutal rapes. Holding placards reading “Modi go home” and “we stand against Modi’s agenda of hate and greed,” they gathered outside Downing Street and parliament as Modi arrived for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May.

Sexual violence against women is a highly charged political issue in India, where protests regularly erupt about entrenched violence against women and the failure to protect them. “The Indian government are doing nothing, and you feel sorry for the families because of the total injustice of it all,” said Navindra Singh, an Indian-born lawyer who lives in Britain. “He has been in power for four years now and there has been no policy change to help protect women and children.” Protests have erupted across India after the latest rape cases were reported. Police officers and a politician are under investigation in two of the unrelated cases. Nearly 40 percent of India’s rape victims are children and the 40,000 reported rapes in 2016 marked a 60 percent increase over the level in 2012. But women’s rights groups say the figures are still gross underestimates.

Naming rape victim
In another development, an Indian court yesterday ordered 12 media companies to pay $15,000 each to a compensation fund for victims of sexual violence after they published the name of an eight-year-old girl who was gang raped and murdered. Indian law prohibits the naming of rape victims, even after they have died, because of the stigma attached to the crime. The New Delhi High Court ordered each firm to pay one million rupees within a week to be used for a compensation scheme for sexual assault victims. The law provides for a jail term of two years along with a fine in case of violations.

The name of the child, who was killed in Jammu and Kashmir state and has since become the focus of national protests over rape cases in India, was used by several media outlets before a court ordered a clampdown last Friday. Lawyers for the media firms told the court the mistake happened due to their ignorance of the law and a misconception that they could name her as she was dead, Press Trust of India reported. The girl, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic community, was kidnapped, drugged and raped over five days at a Hindu temple before being bludgeoned to death in January.- Agencies

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