SRINAGAR: A Hindu right-wing group today took out a protest demonstration in Jammu in support of the two accused arrested in the rape and murder case of eight-year-old girl in Kathua with the Jammu and Kashmir police providing them escort.

Police said Ashifa was abducted, brutally raped and later murdered in Kathua region last month, sparking protests in Jammu and Kashmir following which the J&K Police had arrested a special police officer, Deepak Khajuria, in connection with the crime.

Khujaria, a 28-year-old SPO posted at Police Station Heera Nagar, was arrested by a Special Investigation Team of the Crime Branch for the incident along with a minor boy. Sources said he was part of the police team investigating the crime.

“He had threatened the minor boy to kill his parents if he disclosed his involvement in the crime. Apparently, he raoed and killed the girl to create terror among the nomadic community living in Kathua,” sources said.

Additional Director General of Crime Branch, Alok Puri said the police arrested the SPO on “concrete evidence” and were using the services of the forensic science department of the police to investigate the incident.

Police sources said Khajuria and the minor boy had raped and murdered the child after holding her captive for a week. On Friday, Hindu Ekta Munch, a Hindu right wing group, took out a protest march in support of the accused.

Witnesses said the protesters comprising of men, women and children were chanting pro-accused and anti-government slogans while waving the national flag as they marched ahead while police personnel were seen escorting them, evoking sharp reaction from Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

“Appalled by the marches & protests in defense of the recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag in these demonstrations, this is nothing short of desecration. The accused has been arrested & the law will follow its course,” Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.

The news of Ashifa’s rape and murder had triggered protests in the state legislature also where the Opposition National Conference and Congress staged a walk out on January 18 followed by protests in several places across Jammu.

Blaming the PDP-BJP coalition government for targeted attacks on Muslims in J&K, the Hurriyat trio of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik had threatened to launch an agitation if the culprits were not arrested soon.

(Photograph by NAZIR MASOODI)