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How The Rape And Murder Of An 8-Year-Old Girl Sparked Protests Across India

Apr 17, 2018
Originally published on April 18, 2018 1:43 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A warning about the next four minutes - we're going to examine a grisly, tragic crime in northern India, one that also touches upon larger issues in that country. It's the story about the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl.

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: This 8-year-old girl, she is from a nomadic community, and she was taking her horses out to pasture one day, and she was kidnapped by several men. They dragged her to a nearby Hindu temple, and for the next two or three days, several men gang raped this little girl inside this Hindu temple.

CHANG: The accused are Hindus, the girl was Muslim, and Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times says her body was found days later.

GETTLEMAN: And it immediately ignited tensions between these two communities of these nomads who are Muslim and the people who live in this area, most who are farmers and are Hindu.

CHANG: And just so I understand, this area, Jammu, is primarily populated by Hindus, so the rape and murder of this young girl was a way, authorities are describing, to drive Muslims out of the area. Is that what this crime was ultimately about?

GETTLEMAN: It was, and it's very complicated up here. This is part of the state Jamul and Kashmir. India and Pakistan both claim this larger state. And for decades, there's been conflict in this part of the region. Now, the specific place where this crime happened was a Hindu stronghold. But the state is controlled by a Muslim political party more or less. So Hindu people in this area feel very threatened by that. And there was this fear that these Muslim nomads were trying to take over land and push the Hindus out. So according to police, these men hatched this horrible plan as a way to terrorize an entire community to get out of this area. And it's created a ton of fear. And some people have already left because of it.

CHANG: And outside of that region, there have been protests all across India about this crime. A lot of the uproar has been focused on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Can you explain how he's gotten caught up in all of this?

GETTLEMAN: Narendra Modi is known as somebody who uses Twitter and social media constantly to address the Indian public. And it wasn't until months after this happened and protests were growing that he finally said something, and it was pretty anodyne. He said justice will be served. And it just didn't satisfy people that he really cared enough about what happened to this girl and the motivation.

CHANG: I'm just thinking back to the brutal gang rape of a woman on a bus in New Delhi back in 2012, and there were also widespread protests in the country after that. And there was a sense that in that moment that those protests would be some kind of catalyst for change. Was it a catalyst? What has changed since then, since 2012?

GETTLEMAN: I think there's a lot more awareness about sexual violence. I think many people know it's a serious problem in India, and they're willing to speak out against it. It's just - there's the challenge of using the state police and investigative agencies to really prosecute and put offenders behind bars. And that just doesn't seem to be happening. And the question is will the government use its levers and its, you know, resources to try to change this? And there's a lot of frustration that it just hasn't.

CHANG: Jeffrey Gettleman is the South Asia bureau chief for The New York Times. Thank you very much for joining us.

GETTLEMAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.