The rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl and the separate rape of a teenager have sparked mass protests across India, with levels of public outrage not seen since the death of a young woman on a bus in 2012.

Thousands of people demonstrated in New Delhi, Mumbai, and other cities, demanding that the Government quickly prosecute rape suspects.

Candlelight vigils were also held in some places, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The widespread demonstrations have become a comment on the state of the country and how it treats its women and children - feeding off India's perennial battles against corruption, religious tensions and gender-based violence.

They have also engulfed Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party in an election year, with the party accused of trying to shield a state MP in one case and of defending the accused in the other.

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The body of the 8-year-old girl, Asifa Bano, was found earlier this year in Kathua, in the volatile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

She was lured into the woods by her attackers, drugged, locked in a temple, gang raped for days and finally strangled.

The victim came from a nomadic Muslim community of shepherds, while her alleged attackers are Hindu men, including a local political fixer.

Last week a group of Hindu lawyers surrounded a court in Kashmir, claiming the eight suspects were being discriminated against because of their faith.

That sparked nationwide revulsion, with a social media campaign with tweets by members of the public holding up the the words: "I am Hindustan. I am ashamed. #JusticeForOurChild #JusticeForAsifa. 8 years old. Gangraped. Murdered. In 'Devi'-sthaan temple", running into the tens of thousands.


In Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, a 16-year-old girl accused a ruling party politician of rape, along with his brother. After weeks of inaction, the victim tried to kill herself in front of the chief state minister's house.

Her father went to file a complaint and died in police custody, leading to the suspension of several officers, pending investigations.

Both the suspect, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, and the chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, are close cohorts of Modi.

Sengar was eventually arrested after the Central Bureau of Investigation took the case out of state police hands, and now remains in custody.

Not since a 23-year-old woman, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was gang raped and killed on a bus in Delhi, six years ago, has India seen such a groundswell of public outrage over the country's lack of protection for its women - and children.

That case led to the introduction of tough new laws to punish rapists, but high numbers of assaults persist, with 40,000 rape cases reported every year.


Dr Bijayalaxmi Nanda, a professor of political theory and gender studies at Delhi University, said: "The number of cases of rapes reported has definitely gone up but what we are seeing now is essentially cases of state violence.

"There are people from the government or the state involved in these cases - be it politicians or police officers, or in a communal sense - like religious leaders.

"That people can commit such a serious crime as rape with anything approaching impunity is the underlying issue here.

The idea that for vulnerable or marginalised women and children, justice will never be delivered."

Critics of the BJP say a culture of sectarian division and male entitlement among the ruling class is a byproduct of the party's right-wing, socially conservative agenda.

Its supporters respond that to blame the BJP is simply playing politics. Maneka Gandhi, India's minister for women and children, has called for the death penalty in child rape cases.


Mehbooba Mufti, Jammu and Kashmir's chief minister, forced out two BJP ministers from her cabinet for rallying behind the people accused of raping and murdering Asifa.

A banker in the southern state of Kerala has also since been sacked for making derogatory remarks about Asifa on his Facebook page.

At a vigil held in Delhi last week, Rahul Gandhi, the Opposition Leader, joined crowds marching on the India Gate monument, demanding that Modi address the cases directly.

"We are here against crimes being committed against women, against rapes, violence and murder and the government must act on this", said Gandhi.

"This is a national issue and not a political one." Only after days of protests did Mr Modi respond, saying: "As a country, as a society, we all are ashamed of it. I want to assure the country that no culprit will be spared, complete justice will be done. Our daughters will definitely get justice."