How an 8-year-old girl's rape revealed the problems facing modern India

The path leading to the small nondescript Hindu temple, where it is alleged the eight-year-old girl was held captive for five days.
The path leading to the small nondescript Hindu temple, where it is alleged the eight-year-old girl was held captive for five days.

There is little indication of the ugliness that unfolded within this small pink-walled temple to Ram, the Hindu deity, here at the center of a lush jungle clearing in the foothills of northern India.

Local police say in a formal charge sheet that an eight-year-old girl, who had been minding horses grazing nearby, was abducted and forcibly kept inside for several days in January this year.

The Muslim child, who cannot be identified under Indian law, was later found dead.

Investigators claim that while she was held for five days in this place of worship, where the small centerpiece altar for burned offerings is overhung by a prayer bell, she was drugged. And raped. Again, and again. By a group of grown men.

Her body was allegedly found close to the yellow mud road that leads to the holy site.

Page after page of the charge sheet details how the drugs were allegedly used to sedate the child. How, when the time came, she had been first strangled and then her head bashed in with a rock. The police claim that they have found the bloodied sandstone.

The seven men accused, all Hindu, deny all the charges. An eighth, a juvenile, will be tried separately.

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Communal tensions

Jammu and Kashmir on India's border with Pakistan is a state facing an endless roiling insurgency over continued Pakistani claims to the territory. Military camps line roads choked with troop carriers.

But although the state is majority Muslim, Kathua, where the incident took place, is overwhelmingly Hindu.

That division, and all its accompanying complexities and grievances, has been forced back into the spotlight in the wake of the girl's murder. Such is the friction over the case that the trial has been ordered to be moved to a neighboring state.

With the accused now awaiting a date in court, local Hindu leaders and activists have joined rallies in support of the men charged. Many claim there was no rape. Instead they insist that those arrested have been detained by police as part of a state-wide anti-Hindu plot.

"The chief minister (a Muslim) herself and the other people who just want to disturb the tranquility of the area," says Vijay Kumar Sharma, president of the recently formed pressure group the Hindu Ekta Manch (Hindu Unity Forum).

"They are having some conspiracies. Definitely they're having conspiracies. That is why they have targeted people belonging to one community (Hindu)," adds Sharma.

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