NEW DELHI: Indian federal police on Friday began questioning a legislator from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party accused of raping a teenager nine months ago, after the country’s main opposition party held a midnight vigil demanding justice.
The vigil led by Congress president Rahul Gandhi also gave vent to outrage over another attack, the alleged rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in a Hindu-dominated area of Jammu and Kashmir state in January.
Horrifying details were released in a charge sheet filed by police earlier this week, raising the risk of escalating civil unrest in a region where security forces are fighting separatist militants.
“Like millions of Indians, my heart hurts tonight,” Gandhi wrote on Twitter after addressing an estimated 5,000 people at the candlelight vigil at India Gate war memorial. “India simply cannot continue to treat its women the way it does.” The rape case involving a lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has given opposition parties ammunition to attack its administration of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous and crime-ridden state.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the case after the state’s police were heavily criticised for not acting sooner on the victim’s complaint.
Congress Leader Priyanka Gandhi along with other party leaders takes part in a candle light vigil at India Gate. PTI
A CBI spokesman said Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a longstanding member of the state legislature, was being questioned on Friday in relation to the rape in the city of Unnao. He has not been arrested.
Sengar’s lawyer has said his client, whose election affidavit last year put his age at 50, was innocent and the case was a conspiracy to harm his political career.
Ministers have insisted that justice will be done no matter who committed the crime, while defending the government’s record on fighting violence against women.
“We are here to safeguard the interest of our daughters, they are the daughters of the nation,” federal minister Mahesh Sharma told reporters on Thursday.
Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women and child development, said her department planned to propose the death penalty for rape of children under 12. The maximum punishment under the current Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act is life imprisonment.
The death of a young woman following a brutal gang rape in Delhi in 2012 sparked an outpouring of national shame and anger, forcing the then Congress-led government to tighten laws on crimes against women.
Indian activists and students hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against alleged political silence over the rape of a child near Jammu and a rape case in Uttar Pradesh state, in New Delhi. AFP
But the latest crime records show India registered about 40,000 rape cases in 2016, compared with 25,000 cases in 2012.
Rights activists say thousands more go unreported because of the stigma.
Film celebs unify in demanding justice for Kathua rape victim
Film stars, directors, singers and composers -- the Indian film industry is unified in condemning the "barbaric" and "appalling" rape of a minor in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua district. They are "disgusted" by the silence of the government.
Popular celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, Kamal Haasan, Karan Johar, Adnan Sami and Sanjay Dutt have demanded swift justice for the eight-year-old girl, whose body was recovered from Rassana forest in Kathua district on January 17, a week after she went missing while grazing horses in the forest area.
She was held captive inside a temple, and was sedated before being repeatedly raped and murdered.
The celebrities have demanded severe punishment for the "horrifying" crime.
Here's what they wrote:
Priyanka Chopra: How many more children like baby Asifa will be sacrificed at the intersect of religion and politics? How many more children will have to suffer unimaginable crimes before we wake up? I'm disgusted. It's time for swift action. We owe it to Asifa and to humanity.
How many more children like baby Asifa will be sacrificed at the intersect of religion & politics? How many more children will have to suffer unimaginable crimes before we wake up? I’m disgusted. It’s time for swift action. We owe it to Asifa and to humanity. #justiceforAsifa.— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) April 12, 2018
Kamal Haasan: Does it have to be your own daughter for you to understand? She could've been mine. I feel angry as a man, father and a citizen for failing Asifa. I am sorry my child we didn't make this country safe enough for you. I will fight for justice at least for future kids like you. We mourn you and won't forget you.
Twinkle Khanna: I look at this first as a mother and it's completely heartbreaking. As a woman I feel rage and as an Indian I am absolutely ashamed!
Karan Johar: Inhuman! Appalling! Justice has to has to be served! Asifa.
Adnan Sami: I am sickened and angered to the core by the disgusting, barbaric and savage act against humanity inflicted on baby Asifa. I pray with tears that justice prevails for this little angel's departed soul. Rest in peace dear girl. May God bless you.
Anupam Kher: Shocked, saddened and angry! Sorry Asifa.
Sanjay Dutt: We have failed as a society! Being a father, I am shaken and filled with anger reading about what happened to a eight-year-old kid. My heart goes out to Asifa's family. I refuse to accept we really let this happen. Justice has to be served now.
Anushka Sharma: The cruelest form of evil is harming an innocent child. What is happening to the world we live in? These people should be given the most severe punishment there is! Where are we heading as humanity? Shaken to my core.
The cruelest form of evil is harming an innocent child. What is happening to the world we live in??? These people should be given the most severe punishment there is! Where are we heading as humanity?
Shaken to my core.#JusticeforAsifa— Anushka Sharma (@AnushkaSharma) April 12, 2018
Arjun Rampal: Devastated. Heard news here in Lisbon, eight-year-old girl, held captive in a temple, gang raped,tortured and drugged over four days and then brutally murdered. Read absurd statements where it's being politicised in the name of religion. Shame on our country if justice won't prevail.
Shraddha: Shocking to say the least. Cannot believe it. Praying for justice for Asifa. To starve, drug, rape and then murder an eight-year-old child. Can't believe this has happened. Sounds horrifying but imagine her horror when she went through it all.
Bhumi Pednekar: Ashamed, shaken and so angry. Where are we headed? How can your soul let you do this. Rape needs to stop. We need stricter laws. Punish them. Set a strong example. Let's not fail Asifa and the various victims fallen prey to this sick act justice For Asifa.
Hansal Mehta: When you say you are Hindu and a nationalist are you trying to say that you are an intolerant hate-monger and rapist? If the answer is no, then condemn those who have raped Asifa. Show your nationalism by protesting against those who use religion as a pretext to justify crime.
Omung Kumar: Ashamed to be a man, ashamed of the justice system, ashamed of these politicians, ashamed to be an Indian right now. Justice for Asifa.
Taapsee Pannu: So now a crime like rape is also basis country and religion. That is what we have stooped down to with our analysis. Can we stop shamelessly pointing fingers and accept that we have failed Asifa as a nation and made a shameless joke out of this heinous crime!
So now a crime like rape is also basis country n religion... that’s what we have stooped down to with our analysis. Can we stop shamelessly pointing fingers and accept that we have failed #Asifa as a nation and made a shameless joke out of this heinous crime!— taapsee pannu (@taapsee) 2018(e)ko apirilak 12
Parineeti Chopra: How do human beings go through evil acts on another human? During an act, how do they not stop? Is there no conscience? No guilt? No regret? No humanity? How do you allow yourself to go through raping and killing a child?! Cannot understand it.
Sidharth Malhotra: Filled with so much anger and disgust over what has happened with Asifa. Only demons would inflict cruelty like this on an eight-year-old. Pray for her soul, fight for Justice for Asifa. These atrocities need to end and it needs to end now.
Varun Dhawan: We need to fight for justice for this child. We cannot continue to allow these things to happen. We must not move on or get over this we all have to react Asifa was India's daughter we cannot fail her we need Justice for Asifa.
We need to fight for justice for this child. We cannot continue to allow these things to happen. We must not move on or get over this we all have to react asifa was India’s daughter we cannot fail her we need #JusticeforAsifa pic.twitter.com/MK3czCJCnZ— Varun DAN Dhawan (@Varun_dvn) 2018(e)ko apirilak 12
Aditi Rao Hydari: They are monsters, they drugged, raped and murdered a little girl. They are monsters, they defended the crime in the name of religion. We are monsters if we don't raise our voices and make sure they are punished.
Ayushmann Khurrana: A child deserves only love irrespective of caste, colour, religion. And a rapist deserves only punishment irrespective of caste, colour, religion. Asifa.
Vishal Dadlani: Modi and friends, if you do not speak up now, you are nothing more than gas. Unnao and Kathua demand your personal intervention. Make sure the guilty are arrested and punished, and if you can't, be honest to India for once, and resign. You don't deserve to be where you are.