India: Court finds six guilty of child rape and murder

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Six men have been found guilty of the rape, torture and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The victim, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe, was found in a forest near Kathua city in January 2018.

The case triggered widespread anger and made headlines when Hindu right-wing groups protested over the arrest of the men.

All of them had pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Eight people, including a former government official, four policemen and a minor, were charged. One of them has been acquitted and the minor is set to be tried separately.

The eight-year-old girl went missing in the new year of 2018 and her battered body was discovered almost three weeks later.

According to investigators, the child was confined to a local temple for several days and given sedatives that kept her unconscious. The charge sheet alleged that she was “raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered.”

They added that the child was targeted because the men wished to terrorise the tribe – known as Gujjars – into leaving.

A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India, according to government crime figures up to 2016, and there has been a steady rise in offences against children.

Seven men were tried in a specially convened fast-track court on Monday and six were found guilty.

Investigators said that Sanjhi Ram, a 60-year-old retired government officer, allegedly planned the crime with the help of police officers Surinder Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Deepak Khajuria.

After the verdict, the lawyer representing the child’s family said that it was a “victory of constitutional spirit.”

He added that “the whole country fought this case, irrespective of religious affiliations.”

The lawyer representing the accused said that despite the conviction, the case was based on “circumstantial evidence” and has pleaded for minimum punishment for the six men. He added that there were mitigating circumstances, including the fact that the men were the sole breadwinners in their families.