NEW DELHI: The rape and murder of an eight year old tribal girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua has sparked a major political controversy in India, with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the spotlight as its members were part of processions called in support of the rapists. The processions featured the Indian tricolour and were called by a group known as the Hindu Ekta Manch. The chargesheet states that the 8 year old girl, belonging to the minority Bakerwal community, was gangraped in a temple for days.

While the news has jolted India -- albeit several months too late as Kathua rape victim mangled body was first discovered in January -- the world too is watching in horror. The international media has not minced words in reporting the story, and several publications have gone on the link the rise of religious-motivated violence in India the advent of the BJP and specifically, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Associated Press coverage centres on the religious politics surrounding the Kathua rape. “Thousands of members of a radical Hindu group with links to the ruling party have marched to demand the release of the six men accused in the repeated rape and killing of the girl inside a Hindu temple. Hundreds of Hindu lawyers have protested that the men, two of them police officers, are innocent… There have always been differences between India’s Muslim minority and Hindu majority in this constitutionally secular nation of 1.3 billion. Violence has flared sporadically over the decades since India gained freedom from Britain in 1947, sparking bloody religious riots as the subcontinent was partitioned to create largely Hindu India and largely Muslim Pakistan,” the article states.

“For the most part, though, day-to-day interactions between Hindus and Muslim have been largely peaceful. But that polite distance has widened into a schism since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, was swept into power in a decisive election victory. India’s religious minorities, especially the Muslims who form 13 percent of the population, have felt increasingly isolated since then, as attacks by Hindu extremist groups have risen,” the AP article says.

“Police say the attack on the 8 year old girl was rooted in religious politics, with a group of local men planning to scare away the Bakarwals by simply kidnapping a girl. But once they had the 8 year old girl, that plan was quickly forgotten. Forensic reports say she had been drugged with anti-anxiety medication, repeatedly raped, burned, bludgeoned with a rock and strangled. Eventually, her corpse was thrown into the forest where it was found a week later,” it notes.

The New York Times article, A Young Girl’s Rape in India Becomes a Crisis for Modi, points to religious divisions in the country. “In January, when the crime occurred, the girl’s death barely registered beyond local news reports. But the case roared back to life this week after a mob of lawyers surrounded a courthouse and tried to block police officers from filing charges (the police eventually filed the charge sheet at a judge’s house). Some of the lawyers were aligned with Mr. Modi’s nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, known as the B.J.P… India’s ruling party seems to have failed to learn the painful political lessons from the 2012 rape. At the time, the Indian National Congress, now the leading opposition party, was in power, and it was severely criticized for its slow and tone-deaf reaction.Those same criticisms are now being leveled against Mr. Modi and his party.”

“This latest rape case is rapidly becoming another low point between India’s Hindus and Muslims; politicians have often stirred the two communities against each other, with fatal consequences. The victim was Muslim, all eight men arrested were Hindus and some of the investigators are Muslim. On the other side of the gulf, Muslims generally distrust the governing party and its Hindu nationalist philosophy,” notes the NYT article.

The article also refers to the Unnao rape, saying, “And this is not the only big rape case the governing party has to deal with right now. A powerful governing-party lawmaker in the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly has been accused of raping a teenage girl and then conspiring with his brother to help kill the girl’s father after the family complained.”

Why did India wake up so late to a child rape and murder?” asks the headline in the BBC. “In this instance, one could possibly cite "religious honour" as another reason for why most national media avoided reporting on the crime. The support shown to the accused by Hindu right wing-groups - and two ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - has shocked many,” the article explains.

The Guardian has covered the Kathua story with an article headlined, “Muslim rape-murder case in India disrupted by Hindu groups.” “The killing of eight year-old details of which were released on Wednesday, and ongoing efforts by Hindu groups to disrupt the police investigation have sickened many Indians and deepened concerns about a growing sense of impunity among religious nationalists,” it says.

“Police allege the crime was intricately planned by Sanji Ram, the temple custodian, who they say agreed to pay local officers 500,000 rupees (£5,400) to create false evidence that would lead investigators away from him and his men. Ram had been a staunch opponent of the settlement of the Muslim tribe, known as the Bakarwals, in the area, and saw Bano as a soft target in a plot to frighten the group into leaving, police said,” the article states.

“The prime minister, Narendra Modi, a staunch Hindu nationalist, is yet to comment on the case or the involvement of his party’s ministers and officials in protests in support of some of the accused men. On Thursday he and other senior BJP officials were holding a daylong fast in protest at obstruction by the opposition in the Indian parliament,” the article states. PM Modi spoke on the rape after the article was published, but critics have found his response to be a case of too little too late.

“Violence between Muslims and Hindus, and between Hindu castes, has been commonplace in the seven decades since Indian independence. Modi’s critics say his rise to power has emboldened extremists who share his Hindu nationalist ideology. In December, a Rajasthan man ranted about Hindu nationalist causes as he filmed himself killing a Muslim migrant labourer using a pickaxe. Last month a Hindu religious procession in Jodhpur city included a float that appeared to honour the killer,” the Guardian article states.

The Kathua rape has prompted a response from the United Nations, as secretary general Antonio Guterres termed the gangrape and murder a "horrific" incident and asked Indian authorities to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice.