04/16/2018, 16.00
INDIA
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Church slams the rape of two girls in Kathua and Unnao, says 'We are not a soulless nation'

The men accused in connection with the murder of Asifa Bano, 8, went on trial today. Jammu and Kashmir’s chief minister accepts the resignation of two BJP ministers who had defended the killers. “The repeated targeting of women and children as a tool or agenda for personal, religious or political gain is nothing less than a crime against humanity,” India’s Catholic bishops say in a statement.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India's Catholic Church condemns the gang rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano, in Kathua (Jammu and Kashmir), and that of 16-year-old in Unnao (Uttar Pradesh) by members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as attempts by the party to justify the crimes.

In a statement, Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), expressed on behalf of his fellow bishops deep pain and anguish at violence against women.

The press release goes on to say that “It is hard to be unmoved by what has happened in Kathua, how brutally an eight-year-child was assaulted, molested and cruelly murdered or in Unnao, or in any part of the nation where women are raped and murdered.”

“What has made the incidents in Kathua and Unnao even more deplorable is the justification by certain sections of society; the very people who should uphold the rule of law have either become the alleged perpetrators or the defenders of the indefensible. There is no justification for rape; none what so ever and every voice of sanity must speak out in one voice against such crimes.”

The bishops note that “The repeated targeting of women and children as a tool or agenda for personal, religious or political gain is nothing less than a crime against humanity”.

At the same time, “We are not a soulless nation. If we were, then the outpouring of anger as we have seen it across the nation would not have been manifest. Our nation has a soul, a heart and a mind”.

Indeed, hundreds of people took to the streets in Guajarat, Bandra (Mumbai), Chandigarh (Punjab), Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), Bangalore (Karnataka), Hyderabad (Telangana), Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), and in the capital Delhi.

The protests led Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, two BJP government ministers in Jammu and Kashmir who defended Asifa’s murderers, to tender their resignation, which Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti accepted.

The trial against the eight arrested in connection with Asifa Bano’s gang rape and murder began today. On trial stand a former government official and four policemen; the only accused under age at the time of the crime will be tried separately.

The Jammu and Kashmir government appointed two special public prosecutors, both Sikh, for the trial in the sensitive case, a move to ensure "neutrality" in view of Hindu-Muslim polarisation over the case.

The victim was a Gujjar, who are Muslim and nomadic shepherds. In Jammu, where the incident took place, most people are Hindus and sedentary. The latter complain that Muslim shepherds are trying to seize land to change the region’s ethnic make-up. Asifa’s abduction was meant to scare them off but it went badly.

Mgr Allwyn D'Silva, head of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Mumbai, has called on people to join a peace rally this Wednesday “to recognise the inherent dignity in every person” and ask for justice. He also plans to get people to sign a petition.

Sister Arina Gonsalves, of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, condemns "this heinous crime that is a shame for our country. My heart goes out to the family.”

Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

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