Protests over kidnap, rape and murder of girl (8) in India

The attack took place inside a Hindu temple

Protests over kidnap, rape and murder of girl (8) in India

A candlelit vigil is held in New Delhi, India over the rape and murder of Asifa Bano | Image via @RahulGandhi on Twitter

Hundreds of thousands of people have attended a vigil in India protesting over two rape cases - including that of a child who was kidnapped, tortured and killed.

Eight-year-old Asifa Bano - a member of a nomadic Muslim tribe - was abducted while looking after her family's ponies in the forests of the Himalayan foothills in January.
Her body was found in a forest a week later.

Forensic reports say she had been drugged with anti-anxiety medication, repeatedly raped, burned, bludgeoned with a rock and strangled.

Six men, including two police officers, are accused of being directly involved in the attack, which took place inside a Hindu temple.

Kashmiri residents take part in a protest demanding capital punishment for the accused involved in rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano in Srinagar, Indian administered Kashmir | Image: Saqib Majeed/Zuma Press/PA Images

Police say the attack had been planned for over a month as a way to terrify the Bakarwal community into leaving the area.

Tensions between the nomadic Muslim minority and local Hindu majority in the Jammu and Kashmir area have been growing over the last few years due to land disputes.

Relationships have also deteriorated since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

MP rape claims

Police have also begun questioning a member of India's parliament, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who along with his brothers, is accused of raping a teenager nine months ago in the city of Unnao in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The 50-year-old has not been arrested. His lawyer claims he is innocent and the case is a conspiracy to harm his political career.

The questioning of the ruling BJP minister has led opposition parties to criticise the administration of Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous and crime-ridden state.

There has also been heavy criticism of state police for not acting sooner on the victim's complaint.

Following the vigil, Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress party, wrote on Twitter: "Like millions of Indians my heart hurts tonight. India simply cannot continue to treat its women the way it does".

He later tweeted again, accusing Mr Modi of "unacceptable silence" and asking why "rapists and murderers are protected by the state".

Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, said her department plans to propose the death penalty for the rape of children aged under 12.

The current maximum punishment for the rape of a child in India is life imprisonment.

Indian laws on crimes against women were tightened following the fatal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012.

Crime records show India registered about 40,000 rape cases in 2016, compared with 25,000 cases in 2012.