• Friday, Sep 21, 2018
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Muslims flee village at centre of India's rape crisis

  • Published at 06:20 pm April 18th, 2018
Muslims flee village at centre of India's rape crisis

There are no Muslims left in the village of Rasana, which has become a symbol of India's rape crisis after the brutal murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl blamed on Hindu men.

Police say the girl was raped and killed as part of an attempt by some of the village's majority Hindus to evict Bakarwal Muslim nomads, who graze their cattle in the hills in the summer months.

It seems to have worked: the girl's family have headed for the Kashmir hills under police protection. Other Muslim families in the community of around 100 people all left after the rape in January.

At the empty home of the dead girl's family, five armed police kept guard half asleep in chairs outside.

Police say the child was drugged, held captive in a Hindu temple for five days, and repeatedly raped before being beaten to death.

Her anonymous grave in orange earth partially covered by weeds is in a nearby village in Kathua district, about 60km from the region's main city Jammu.

Media reports said Hindus in Rasana refused to allow the girl to be buried there.

Jammu and Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state, but the Jammu region in the south is dominated by Hindus.

Hindus and Muslims had lived together relatively peacefully in Rasana until the killing, though each side had made sporadic police complaints about the other, according to official documents.

The rape went virtually unnoticed in India until Hindu lawyers staged protests outside a Jammu court last week trying to stop police registering the charge sheet. Hindu right-wing groups say the investigation is biased.

The release of horrific details of the murder of the girl, whose identity cannot be disclosed by law, made national headlines and sparked protests against the lack of action on sexual violence in India.

The eruption of anger has reminded many of the outrage and demonstrations triggered by the fatal gang-rape of a Delhi student on a bus in 2012 that also made headlines around the world.

'Sick mentality'

In Rasana, the village's few remaining inhabitants are reluctant to speak to outsiders.

"Since all this happened, the village has emptied," according to 39-year-old Yash Paul Sharma, a rare resident willing to talk.

He said Rasana had gone through a "nightmare" as the place of the killing and the intense scrutiny it has faced since.

The main accused in the case is Sanji Ram, a leader of the rustic pink temple in Rasana where the girl was allegedly held captive.

A minor and a local police constable are among those charged with the killing, while three police officials have been charged with accepting bribes to cover up the case.

Outside the temple, a group of six Muslims had driven six hours from Punjab state in an effort to donate money to the girl's family.

The killing reflects the hostility encouraged by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said Mubeen Farooqi, head of the group.

"But now India's mind is changing with this episode and everyone stands against this sick mentality," he said.

Two members of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party resigned as ministers in the Kashmir state government after being filmed taking part in protests against the arrests of the eight Hindus in the case.

The rape has sent tensions escalating, with near daily protests in Jammu and other cities across India calling for justice.

On Tuesday, authorities cut internet connections across Jammu because of fears of demonstrations.

The few Muslims who have remained in villages around Rasana are worried.

Kaniza Begum, a mother of six, is fearful of allowing her 10-year-old daughter to play in the nearby fields. "She is no longer allowed outside. If she goes to school, her brother escorts her."