SRINAGAR, India—A court on June 10 sentenced three Hindu men, including a police officer, to life imprisonment for kidnapping, raping and murdering an 8-year-old Muslim girl in Indian-controlled Kashmir, in a case that has exacerbated tensions in the disputed region.
Judge Tejwinder Singh sentenced three other policemen to five years in prison for destroying evidence, prosecutor Santokh Singh told reporters. The judge acquitted another defendant due to insufficient evidence.
An eighth suspect, a minor, will be tried separately by a juvenile court, Santokh Singh said.
The girl, who was a member of a nomadic tribe, was grazing her family’s ponies in the forests of the Himalayan foothills when she was kidnapped in January 2018. Her mutilated body was found in the woods a week later.
The case sparked protests across Kashmir.
Singh said prosecutors plan to appeal to a higher court and seek the death penalty for the three defendants who received life sentences.
The trial was shifted to Pathankot, a town in neighboring Punjab state, following accusations that local Hindu leaders and politicians were trying to block the investigation.
The prosecution said the girl was raped in a small village temple in Kathua district after having been kept sedated for four days, and was then bludgeoned to death.
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.”
India has been shaken by a series of sexual assaults in recent years, including the gang rape and murder of a student on a New Delhi bus in 2012. That attack galvanized a country where widespread violence against women had long been quietly accepted.
Brothers, Uncle Accused of Rape and Murder of 12-Year-Old Girl in India
The brothers and uncle of a 12-year-old Indian schoolgirl whose headless body was found have been accused in her rape and murder.
The shocking case is the latest high-profile sexual assault to shake the country, which has long-struggled with sexual violence and the surrounding social mores of family shame, “honor,” and cover-ups.
Her brothers are aged 17, 19, and 22 according to reports.
The girl, who has not been named by authorities, was reported missing on March 13, and her decapitated head was found along with her body the following day in an agricultural field near Berkhedi, reported the Hindustan Times.
The police offered a reward of 25,000 Rupees ($360) for information on the murder of the girl, who belonged to the Dalit, once known as the “untouchables,” the lowest level of India’s rigid 1,300-year-old caste system.
Investigators determined that she had been raped and strangled to death before her head was cut off with a sickle, reported NDTV.
The family had initially claimed that she had been kidnapped and killed by neighbors in their village in Sagar as revenge over a land dispute.
On March 19, however, authorities announced that her family members were being charged over her rape and murder. The girl’s aunt is also being accused for her alleged role in the crime.
The incident took place in Madhya Pradesh, a populous central state with the highest number of rape cases.
“Our two senior officers collected all evidence and recorded the statements of the family members,” Sagar’s superintendent of police Amit Sanghi said, according to the Hindustan Times. “When everything was pieced together, we found that she was raped and murdered by her brothers and uncle.”
The girl’s eldest brother, 22, is accused of first abducting her and taking her to his uncle’s house, according to the police account, reported the New Indian Express.
“On that day everyone was out for work except the elder brother, and taking advantage of this he raped his sister,” he said. “While in the act, the other two brothers, including the minor, came and they both raped her. Meanwhile, the girl’s uncle, who is in his late forties, also came by. Initially, he scolded everyone and then he too raped her.”
When she threatened to tell the police, they allegedly killed her.
According to police, the aunt may have been present during the assault, assisted in the murder, and later tried to cover up the crime by implicating the neighbors.
Three of the four accused, including the deceased girl’s uncle and her two brothers, have been arrested, while police are carrying out raids to track down the eldest brother. Police said that the aunt would also be charged, according to media reports.
The Associated Press and Epoch Times reporter Simon Veazey contributed to this report.