A bus carrying the accused arrives at court in Pathankot, Jammu and Kashmir state, on Monday. Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images
An Indian court has convicted six men of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state last year, in a case that sparked outrage and criticism of the country’s ruling party after some of its members opposed charges being laid.
The girl, from a nomadic Muslim 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 2018.
The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a plan to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet said.
Among those accused were a Hindu priest and police officers, raising communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the area.
“This is a victory of truth,” the prosecution lawyer M Farooqi said outside the court. “The girl and her family have got justice today. We are satisfied with the judgment.”
The prosecution was seeking the death penalty for three men – the priest Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar – who were convicted of rape and murder, he said.
Three others, Surinder Kumar, Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta, were convicted of lesser crimes of destroying evidence.
AK Sawhney, a lawyer leading the legal team representing the accused, said they planned to appeal against the verdict.
The trial, held in private, began more than a year ago in Pathankot, a town about 45 miles from Rasana village in Kathua district, where the incident happened.
The supreme court shifted the trial to the neighbouring state of Punjab after the girl’s family and lawyer said they faced death threats, and local lawyers and Hindu politicians, including some from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, held protests against police filing charges.
India has long been plagued by violence against women and children. Reported rapes climbed 60% to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, according to government statistics, and many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.
Eight people are accused of involvement in the case. The seventh man, named as Vishal, was found not guilty on Monday, Farooqi said, while the eighth, a juvenile, is awaiting trial.