Six men were convicted Monday in the notorious 2018 gang rape and murder in India of an eight-year-old girl from a Muslim nomadic tribe. The crime provoked horror and stoked inter-religious tensions.
Sexual violence, including against children, is rife in India and outrage over the so-called Kathua case contributed to the government introducing the death penalty for child rapists.
According to the charge sheet, the girl was abducted while she was out grazing horses and taken to a village in the Kathua district of the northern Indian region of Jammu on January 10 last year.
In an ordeal lasting five days, she was sedated and held in a Hindu temple, repeatedly raped and then strangled and bludgeoned to death.
Investigations suggested that the girl was targeted in order to strike fear in her nomad community and drive them out of the area.
The six Hindu men were due to be sentenced later Monday, prosecution lawyer Mubeen Farooqui told reporters outside a special court in Pathankot, in Punjab state.
Three face the death penalty with a minimum of life imprisonment. A seventh man was acquitted while an eighth person, who claims to be underage, faces a separate trial.
“We will appeal against the convictions in a higher court,” defense lawyer H.S. Pathania said.
The girl’s father, Mohammed Akhtar, told The Associated Press 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.”
Among the three convicted of rape and murder were village head Sanjhi Ram and special police officer Deepak Khajuria. Three others were found guilty of taking bribes and destroying evidence, but still face life imprisonment under strict conspiracy laws.
India has the death penalty for the most brutal murders and terror attacks. The last execution happened in 2015 over bombings in Mumbai in 1993.
The Kathua case sparked two days of violent protests in Jammu and demonstrations in several other places across India, including in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
The ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party also drew flak after two of its members participated in rallies in support of the accused.
The protests were reminiscent of those that followed the fatal gang rape of a Delhi student on a bus in 2012 that made headlines around the world.
The Supreme Court had shifted the Kathua trial to Punjab after the girl’s family and their lawyer complained of death threats.
Sexual violence, including against children, remains unabated in India. Nearly 20,000 child rape cases were reported in 2016, according to official data, while a 2014 U.N. report said one in three rape victims was a minor.
Jammu and Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state, but the southern Jammu region — where the rape and murder took place — is Hindu-dominated.
On Monday, hundreds of police were on duty in Pathankot for the trial. Wary of new protests, security was also heavy in Kathua town and surrounding Muslim areas.