Six Paedophiles were convicted on Monday over the notorious 2018 gang rape and murder in India of a young girl from a Muslim nomadic tribe that 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 imposing the death penalty for child rapists.
According to the charge sheet, eight-year-old Asifa Bano was abducted 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 over five days and then strangled and beaten to death.
The six Hindu men were due to be sentenced later, prosecution lawyer Mubeen Farooqui told reporters outside the court in Pathankot, in Punjab state.
They face the death penalty with a minimum of life imprisonment. A seventh man was acquitted while an eighth person, who was underage, faces a separate trial.
The case sparked two days of violent protests in Jammu and demonstrations in several other places across India, including in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
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.
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.
India is home to the largest number of sexually abused children in the world, but there is a reluctance to talk about the topic so the real number of cases could be much higher.
Three police officers were found guilty of destroying evidence and sentenced to five years in prison.
The victim, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe, was found in a forest near Kathua city in January 2018.
Who are the convicted men?
Eight people, including a former government official, four policemen and a minor, were charged in connection with the crime. One of them has been acquitted and the minor is set to be tried separately.
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.
Ram’s son, Vishal, his nephew, a juvenile, and his friend, Parvesh Kumar, were also accused over the rape and murder.
While Vishal was acquitted, Ram, Khajuria and Kumar have been sentenced for life. The remaining three have been handed five-year sentences.
After the verdict, the lawyer representing the child’s family told reporters 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.
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.