An Indian court fined a dozen media organizations on Wednesday for revealing the identity of an 8-year-old Muslim girl who was allegedly gang raped and killed by a group of Hindus in the Jammu region of Indian Kashmir.
The Delhi High Court directed the organizations, including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Hindu and NDTV, to pay 1 million rupees (U.S. $15,171) each for naming the Muslim victim, whose gang rape and killing in January caused a nationwide uproar after police filed a charge sheet against the eight suspects last week.
It is illegal to publicly identify victims of sexual assault because of the stigma attached to the crime.
The girl was held captive and repeatedly raped for days inside a temple before the accused – all Hindus – allegedly strangled her and smashed her head with a stone, police said in the charge sheet.
The crime, which provoked widespread protests across the country after details of the incident were made public, was part of a “plan to drive out the victim’s nomadic community” from the Kathua area of Jammu, the only Hindu-dominated region of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state, police said.
While ordering the fines paid by the 12 media organizations be deposited in the Jammu and Kashmir Victim Compensation Fund, the Delhi High Court said a possible prison term of six months awaited those who further disclosed the identity of the victim, according to the Press Trust of India.
Accused deny charges
During the first hearing in a local court in Indian Kashmir on Monday, all eight accused, including a retired bureaucrat and two police, “pleaded not guilty to the charges and are willing to take a lie-detector test to prove their innocence,” lawyer Ankur Sharma told reporters.
In the charge sheet, police alleged that Sanji Ram, 62, a retired revenue official who looked after a small Hindu temple in Kathua, masterminded the attack on the girl and plotted with the others including his juvenile nephew to abduct, rape and kill the victim.
The charge sheet went on to state that on Jan. 10, the suspects drugged the victim before taking her to the temple where she was held captive for days and gang raped even while in an unconscious state. The girl’s body was discovered in a nearby canal on Jan. 13.
Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta, two police officers who were among the eight suspects, are accused of receiving bribes from Sanji Ram to cover up the crime. The suspects have been in custody since early February and are due back in court on April 28.
Victim’s family flees Kathua
On Wednesday, protesters in several Indian cities called for capital punishment for the suspects. In south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, clashes resulted in security forces firing tear gas shells to disperse the crowd, injuring at least 35 protesters – mostly students – and two security personnel.
The victim’s father demanded that his daughter’s suspected killers be put to death.
“The only compensation the government can give is to hang the culprits,” the victim’s father told BenarNews in a phone call from an undisclosed location.
He said his family had fled Kathua, fearing violence by Hindu fringe groups.
“Those men drugged, gang raped and killed my daughter to force us to leave this place. Even if they would have requested us to leave from here, we would have left,” he said.
Protesters express anger at BJP
Public anger, which has drawn comparisons with widespread protests that followed the gang rape and killing of a medical student in a moving bus in Delhi in 2012, is partly fueled by support for the suspects from ministers of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) according to protesters.
Chowdary Lal Singh and Chandar Parkash Gupta, both BJP ministers, who participated in a rally last month demanding the suspects’ release, resigned, a party spokesman who did not wish to be named told BenarNews.
Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence on the issue last week, assuring the nation that the “guilty will not be spared,” his party’s stance has caused a rift in the alliance between the BJP and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is in power in Indian Kashmir, according to PDP minister Tasaduq Mufti.
“We were supposed to be partners in rebuilding the state. But sadly we have ended up being partners in a crime that an entire generation of Kashmiris might have to pay for with their blood,” The Indian Express quoted Mufti as saying.
“The brutal rape and murder of a minor girl and the subsequent communal politics over it has pushed the state to a new low and brought shame to all of us,” he added.
Indian President Ramnath Kovind, who arrived in Jammu on Wednesday for a two-day visit, said “this horrible incident” had shamed India 70 years after its independence.
“It is our collective responsibility to put an end to such shameful incidents and ensure that this does not happen to any girl or woman. We have to ponder what kind of society we are living in,” he said.