Six men have been convicted of involvement in the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl. The case has sparked racial tensions between Muslim nomads and local Hindus.
An Indian court on Monday sentenced three men to life in jail for therape and killing of an 8-year-old Muslim girl, identified as Asifa, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The prosecution had sought the death penalty. Three others, including two policemen, were convicted of the lesser crimes of destroying evidence. They received five-year sentences.
A seventh man was acquitted for lack of evidence, while an eighth person, who was underage, is being tried separately.
"This is a victory for truth," prosecution lawyer Mubeen Farooqi told reporters outside the court. "The girl and her family have received justice today. We are satisfied with the judgement."
A lawyer representing the accused told reporters that they planned to appeal the verdict.
Asifa was part of the Gujjar Bakarwal community, a group of Muslim nomadic herders in the region. According to the charge sheet, she was grazing her family's ponies in the forests of the Himalayan foothills when she was drugged and kidnapped in January 2018.
She was taken to a village in the Kathua district where she was held captive in a Hindu temple and sexually assaulted for five days. She was then strangled and battered to death with a stone. Her body was later found in a nearby forest.
Police say the abduction of the girl was part of a plan to remove the Bakarwals from the area, where conflict had been brewing in recent years between Muslim nomads and local Hindus over land disputes.
Shock and anger
The case sparked violent protests in Jammu, a Hindu-dominated region of Jammu and Kashmir, in April 2018.
Protesters demanding justice for Asifa were held in the region's capital of Srinagar, even as Jammu was in the midst of a shutdown. Other demonstrations took place across India, including New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
Meanwhile, Jammu-based lawyers and politicians, mostly from India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rallied in support of the accused. Protesters attempted to block police from filling the charge sheet, showing their contempt for India's judicial process.
India has been long plagued by violence against women and children. Reported rape cases increased by 60% to 40,000 from 2012 to 2016, according to government statistics. Many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.
dv/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)