NEW DELHI – Protests over the handling of the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl spread across India on Sunday when the government was pressured to guarantee justice in a case that has shocked the country.
The girl was kidnapped in January and held in a Hindu temple in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir while she was drugged, gang raped and murdered, according to a police bulletin board posted on a local media website.
The case came to national attention after it was reported that a group of lawyers had initially obstructed the filing of the charge sheet in a local court last week. Seven people, including four police officers, were arrested in connection with the case, along with a minor, police said. The defendant or his lawyers could not be contacted. The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.
The case has threatened to stoke emotions between Muslims and Hindus in a state where religious tensions are already high. The girl was from a nomadic Muslim tribe, and the charge sheet filed with the court said one of the defendants wanted to expel the tribe from the area.
Protesters gathered on Sunday in the capital, New Delhi, the western city of Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram. in Kerala, with demonstrations planned elsewhere in the country. The protesters carried signs that read: "There is no country for women" and "Daughter is a daughter, whether Hindu or Muslim."
Online, Bollywood celebrities published photographs of themselves holding signs that read: "I am Hindustan I am ashamed. #justiceforourchild." "Hindustan" is another word for India.
Two ministers of the local government of Jammu and Kashmir of the Prime Minister of India
The Bharatiya Janata party resigned on Friday after taking part in a rally in support of the defendant. Mr. Modi's party, which has Hindu nationalist roots, is in coalition with the ruling People's Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir.
Leader of the opposition
on Friday he led a candlelight vigil in New Delhi for the girl and for the victim of another alleged rape in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
In a second case that provoked outrage, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a local legislator of Mr. Modi's BJP in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is in custody and faces charges for the rape of a 17-year-old girl and conspiracy to kill his father, who died after being beaten by Mr. Sengar's brother and some of his aides.
A woman accused of taking the girl to Mr. Sengar has also been arrested, said an official with the Central Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Sengar and the woman deny the accusations.
Political commentators said that the two cases could damage the BJP's chances of winning the national elections scheduled for 2019.
"The elected representatives are accused of rape or are involved in the defendant's defense," he said. Narayana Sukumar, professor of political science at the University of Delhi. "People are losing faith in the current government's governance model and its promises of female security."
Some activists said the attack on the 8-year-old girl was not only sexual violence, but also a hate crime against the Muslim community from which she comes.
"It is the culmination of the anti-Muslim policy led by the BJP and the Prime Minister Modi himself," said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the Association of Progressive Women of India.
Mr. Modi condemned the incidents on Friday, without referring to them by name. "These kinds of incidents are shameful to any civilized society, I want to assure the country that no criminal will be saved, whatever happens to those girls, they will get justice for that," he said.
Mehbooba Mufti, Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said in a tweet of his verified
"I would bring a new law that will make mandatory the death penalty for those who violate minors."
Group rape and the murder of a 23-year-old student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012 sparked outrage in India and prompted the government to increase the punishment for violation of the death penalty.
Violence against women and girls is still common in India. According to the latest data available from the National Office of Criminal Records in India, 38,947 incidents of rape of women were reported throughout India in 2016, a 61% increase of 24,206 in 2011.
-Vibhuti Agarwal and Debiprasad Nayak contributed to this article.  Write to Corinne Abrams at firstname.lastname@example.org and Krishna Pokharel at email@example.com