Why protesters in India are demanding justice for 8-year-old Asifa

Thousands of people in India have taken to the streets demanding justice for Asifa, an eight-year-old girl police say was abducted, gang raped and murdered.

8 men on trial for rape, murder of girl in Kashmir amid widespread public outrage

An activist shouts slogans at a protest in Mumbai demanding justice for eight-year-old Asifa, who police say was kidnapped, gang raped and murdered. (Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press)
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Thousands of people in India have taken to the streets demanding justice for eight-year-old Asifa.

Eight Hindu men accused in the Muslim girl's gang rape and murder pleaded not guilty Monday in their first court appearance. Two police officers are among the accused.

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 fuelled by support for the accused initially shown by state government ministers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

Indian author and women's rights advocate Deepa Narayan told As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner why she's been marching in the streets of Delhi for Asifa.

Here is part of that conversation. 

Can you describe the latest protest in Delhi? What was it like?

It was very moving. What was unique about this was that it was literally a citizens' movement and protest. There wasn't a single sign from a political party.

There were gray-haired men and women. There were five-year-olds holding up signs, little girls holding up signs saying, "Am I next?"

There were students from 10th grade —15-year-olds reciting poems that they wrote in the middle of the night.

It was very peaceful, very moving and deeply disturbing.

Students participate in a candle light procession in a protest demanding justice for Asifa. (Channi Anand/Associated Press)

Can you describe for us what happened to this young girl Asifa? Tell us about the crime.

She's an eight-year-old girl belonging to a herder's community in Jammu, Kashmir, and on Jan. 10 she had gone to graze her horses and did not return home.

Her father went to the police and asked the police to help. And then seven days later, her body, which is mutilated, showed up in the forest near her village.

Once that investigation started, the horrors of what happened to her started emerging.

The rape, the horrendous rape, really hit the public consciousness recently because the bar association, the lawyers in Jammu and Kashmir, objected to a charge sheet being filed against those who were accused.

Activist from various organizations protest against recent incidents of rape in India, including that of a slain eight-year-old Muslim girl. (Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press)

You mention the lawyers who surrounded a local courthouse trying to stop the police officers from filing charges against against the very men accused of committing this crime. Why would the lawyers do that? Why were they trying to protect these men?

Because there is an undercurrent of hate against Muslims, and all the men that were involved were Hindus.

There was a group called the Hindu Ekta Manch, which means Hindus United, that had even earlier protested against the accused being arrested. 

If nothing that is meant to protect an ordinary system works, then there is no hope of a functioning democracy or for any citizens being safe.

How could anyone justify any objection given the details of this crime?

It's incomprehensible and I think that's why the country is in such a shock.

Citizens are out in the streets protesting again because it's so depraved, it's so inhuman, and once again it shows that India just doesn't value girls or women.

Indian author and women's right advocate Deepa Narayan says the rape and murder of a little girl in India is 'incomprehensible' and the country is 'in shock.' (John Preston/Submitted by Deepa Narayan )

We all remember back in 2012 the case of a young woman who was gang raped on a bus in India. That got the world's attention. How disheartening is it for you to see crimes like this continuing to happen in India?

Terribly, terribly demoralizing. I think in India, like in many other countries, basically girls are not meant to exist. And so they exist only to serve men and only when they provide some value to men.

Prime Minister Modi spoke about this case for the first time on Friday. What is the significance of that? What does that tell you about about how the government looks at rape cases in the country?

I think the government doesn't speak up until it can no longer ignore it.

Citizens are out in the streets in every city and the newspapers are covering it day and night.

The contrast is between all the shining cities and the IT hubs, and then we can't get justice on a rape. Or just the fact that women are not safe. Girls are not safe anywhere anymore.