NEW DELHI — An Indian court Monday convicted six men the kidnap, rape, and murder of a Muslim nomadic girl last year, bringing to a close a case that gripped India and reflected bitter religious divisions.
After a closed trial, the men, who included police officials, were handed sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment for their crimes against the 8-year-old girl, which occurred in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. A seventh person was acquitted for lack of evidence.
The mother of the girl, whose name and identity were protected by court order, said the decision was “a victory for all those sane voices that campaigned for justice.”
The case provoked weeks of protest and breathless front-page coverage in India, with a level of outrage reminiscent of the reaction several years ago when a young woman was raped on a bus and died of her injuries.
Beyond its brutality, the crime was noteworthy for the role religion played in heightening tensions. According to investigators, the man behind the plot, Sanji Ram, a retired government revenue officer, had targeted the 8-year-old girl to strike fear in her Muslim nomadic tribe, the Bakarwal, and drive them from the rugged Himalayan region where they live as shepherds.
In January 2018, the girl was kidnapped from a meadow and locked in a remote Hindu temple in the district of Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir. For days, several men, all of them Hindu, drugged, starved, and gang-raped her. She was eventually strangled and hit in the head with a rock. The girl’s body was dumped in a forest, her purple dress stained with blood.
A special court in the state of Punjab handed down the verdict, which was based on testimony from more than 100 witnesses. Before the hearing, police tightened security by deploying several hundred officers around the building and by bringing in a tank. There were no reports of violence.
Three of the men, including Ram, were convicted on charges of kidnapping, rape, and murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The others were found guilty of destroying evidence and given five years in jail. The court acquitted Ram’s son, Vishal. All of the men were tried under laws that could have brought the death penalty.