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Eight go on trial for rape, murder of Kashmir girl amid public outrage

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Deepak Khajuria arrives for a court appearance after he was arrested in connection with the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, south of Jammu, on Monday.

Reuters, Srinagar, India :
Eight men accused of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India's Jammu and Kashmir state appeared in court on Monday for the first hearing in a case that sparked nationwide outrage and criticism of the ruling party.
The girl, from a nomadic community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January, police said.
Public anger at the crime led to protests in cities across India over the past few days, with outrage fueled by support for the accused initially shown by ministers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.
The protests have also focused on another rape allegedly involving a BJP lawmaker in the crime-ridden, most populous, poor northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The national outrage has drawn parallels with the massive protests that followed the gang rape and murder of a girl on a Delhi bus in 2012, which forced the then Congress-led government to enact tough new rape laws including the death penalty.
Yet India has long been plagued by violence against women and children - reported rapes climbed 60 percent from 2012 to 40,000 in 2016, and many more go unreported, especially in backward rural areas.
More rallies demanding action against rapists and violence against women were expected on Monday in the capital and Ahmedabad, the state capital of Modi's home state of Gujarat, where reports of the torture, rape and murder of another child emerged.
In that case, the corpse of a girl of around 10 was found a week ago, and on Sunday police revealed the body had 86 injury marks. They have still to identify the victim, and have offered a reward for information.
As the groundswell of revulsion gathered momentum, Modi assured the country on Friday that the guilty would not be shielded, but he has been criticized for failing to speak out sooner.
Before leaving for an official visit to Europe this week, Modi received a letter from 50 former police chiefs, ambassadors and senior civil servants upbraiding the country's political leadership over its weak response.
"The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old child shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk into," the letter said.
"In post-Independence India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble."

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