NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday broke silence on two rape cases, one in occupied Kashmir and another allegedly involving a lawmaker from his party – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“I want to assure the nation that no criminal will be spared. Justice will be done. Our daughters will get justice,” Modi said while speaking at an event to inaugurate the BR Ambedkar memorial in New Delhi.
The Indian premier added, “It is an internal failing of our society and not at all fitting for any society that claims to be civilised and we are ashamed of it. We must address this issue together as a society.”
Modi’s comments came as outrage over the two rape cases mounted putting the Indian government in a bind.
Horrifying details of the alleged gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl, Asifa, in a Hindu-dominated area of occupied Kashmir in January, emerged this week from a police charge sheet.
The BJP shares power in the state, where two party members joined a rally to show support for eight Hindu men accused of the crime, including a former bureaucrat and four police officers.
According to TV reports, the two BJP ministers who joined rallies in support of those accused of raping Asifa resigned on Friday.
The case which initially seemed to be an isolated, heinous episode of sexual violence has escalated communal tensions in IoK. Over the course of the investigation, the police found that the suspects engaged in the heinous act to drive out the Muslim community of Bakarwals from the tehsil.
The police have arrested eight men in the case and several have confessed to the crime. The custodian of the Devistan temple, Sanji Ram, has been labelled as ‘the mastermind’ behind the plot. The accused also includes police officers who confessed to having accepted thousands of dollars to cover up the crime, reported Times of India.
Further, in the crime-ridden northern state of Uttar Pradesh, federal police on Friday began questioning a BJP member of the state legislature who is accused of raping a teenage woman in June.
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a rising star in the BJP, asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the case this week after the state’s police were heavily criticised for not acting sooner on the victim’s complaint.
A CBI spokesman said the lawmaker, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, was being questioned on Friday, but had not been arrested.
Sengar’s lawyer has said his client 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 ministry planned to propose the death penalty for the rape of children younger than 12. The maximum punishment now is life imprisonment.
Responding to the outpouring of national shame and anger after the 2012 New Delhi case, the then Congress-led government tightened laws on crimes against women.
India registered about 40,000 rape cases in 2016, up from 25,000 in 2012, the latest data show. Rights activists say thousands more go unreported because of a perceived stigma.