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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Indians shocked by two child rape cases 

Police report rise in cases despite outrage and stricter laws following brutal assault in 2012

Protests have erupted across India after police officers and a politician were named separately in connection to two child rape cases which are now under investigation.

Outrage followed details released by police about the case of an 8-year-old girl who was kidnapped, sedated and gang raped in a Hindu temple in Kathua, in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The perpetrators kept her for days, then murdered her and dumped her body in the forest, police said.

A former government official and an officer who was investigating the parents' complaint about their missing daughter are named in the police charge sheet.

Others are accused of trying to cover up the crime, and four police officers have been arrested so far, said Deepika Singh Rajawat, a lawyer representing the victim's family.

In a different case, a man died this week in police custody after accusing a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party in Uttar Pradesh state of the abduction and rape of his 16-year-old daughter nine months ago.

Police had failed to investigate allegations against Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a member of the state legislature, but India's Central Bureau of Investigation took over the case on Thursday.

Mr Sengar has denied involvement, but the case has helped galvanise a movement calling for justice for rape victims.

"Both cases have shaken the conscience of the nation, shaken the hearts and souls of people," said Feroze Mithiborwala, an organiser of a protest in Mumbai on Friday.

Rahul Gandhi, president of India's main opposition Congress party, led a candlelight march on Thursday night in New Delhi.

Demonstrators hold a candlelight vigil at the India Gate monument in New Delhi on April 12, 2018 to protest against the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir. AFP
Demonstrators hold a candlelight vigil at the India Gate monument in New Delhi on April 12, 2018 to protest against the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir. AFP

Citizens' groups are planning further protests in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata over the next two days, while thousands of people have taken to social media to demand justice for the victims.

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Sexual violence remains a taboo topic in India, and survivors fear stigma or retribution if they report attacks.

But the number of cases that police register has been rising steadily following national outrage at the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012.

Nearly 35,000 rape cases were reported to the police and 7,000 convictions were made in 2015, both increasing by about 40 per cent from three years earlier, according to government data.

In both the recent cases, families have had to confront powerful people in their bid for justice.

"The parents of the young girl are very poor and not aware of the law, but they definitely want justice for their daughter," said Ms Rajawat, the lawyer for the family of the rape victim in Kashmir.

Chandana Chakrabarty, a Hyderabad-based actor and activist, said the possible involvement of influential people in the child rape cases makes it even more important to stand up for justice.

"It is very important to tell the government that we are not silent and something needs to be done," she said.

Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, said her department planned to propose the death penalty for rape of children under 12. The maximum punishment under the current Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act is life imprisonment.

Activists and students stage a protest in New Delhi on April 12, 2018 over the rape of an 8-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir and another rape case involving a politician Uttar Pradesh state. Sajjad Hussain / AFP
Activists and students stage a protest in New Delhi on April 12, 2018 over the rape of an 8-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir and another rape case involving a politician Uttar Pradesh state. Sajjad Hussain / AFP