DELHI — The rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl and the separate rape of a teenager have sparked mass protests across India, with levels of public outrage not seen since the death of a young woman on a bus in 2012.
Sunday, thousands of people demonstrated in New Delhi, Mumbai, and other cities, demanding that the government quickly prosecute rape suspects. Candlelight vigils were also held.
The widespread demonstrations have become a comment on the state of the country and how it treats its women and children — feeding off India’s perennial battles against corruption, religious tensions and gender-based violence.
They have also engulfed Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP party in an election year, with the party accused of trying to shield a state MP in one case and of defending the accused in the other.
The body of the eight-year-old girl, Asifa Bano, was found earlier this year in Kathua, in the volatile state of Jammu and Kashmir. She was lured into the woods by her attackers, drugged, locked in a temple, gang raped for days and finally strangled.
Kashmiri traders and local residents shout slogan during a protest against the rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa, in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Friday, April 13, 2018.
The victim came from a nomadic Muslim community of shepherds, while her alleged attackers are Hindu men, including a local political fixer.
Last week a group of Hindu lawyers surrounded a court in Kashmir, claiming the eight suspects were being discriminated against because of their faith.
That sparked nationwide revulsion, and a social media campaign with members of the public holding up the words: “I am Hindustan. I am ashamed. #JusticeForOurChild #JusticeForAsifa. 8 years old. Gang-raped. Murdered,” running into the tens of thousands.
In Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, a 16-year-old girl accused a ruling party politician of rape, along with his brother. After weeks of inaction, the victim tried to kill herself in front of the chief state minister’s house. Her father went to file a complaint and died in police custody, leading to the suspension of several officers amid investigations.
Both Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the suspect, and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister, are close cohorts of Modi. Sengar was eventually arrested after the Central Bureau of Investigation took the case out of state police hands.
Not since Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23-year-old woman, was gang-raped and killed on a bus in Delhi six years ago, has India seen such a groundswell of public outrage over the lack of protection for women — and children.
That case led to the introduction of tougher laws, but 40,000 rape cases are reported every year.