A total of 49 former high-ranking civil servants have penned a scathing letter to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticizing the right-wing, nationalist government's weak response to the heinous gang rape and murder of 8-year-old Muslim girl Asifa Bano which has shaken the nation.
Referring to the rape and murder of Asifa, the letter said it was a "moment of existential crisis," the "darkest hour" in "post-Independence India".
"The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old child shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk into," the letter warns. "In post-Independence India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble."
Bano who belonged to a nomadic community was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January, the police said.
Referring to the case, the letter called out a "culture of majoritarian belligerence and aggression promoted by the Sangh Parivar (the right-wing, Hindu nationalist group)" which emboldened "rabid communal elements" to pursue their perverse agenda. The strongly worded letter said the government is responsible for the "terrifying state of affairs."
"We had hoped that as someone sworn to upholding the Constitution, the Government that you head and the party to which you belong would wake up to this alarming decline, take the lead in stemming the rot and reassure everyone, especially the minorities and vulnerable sections of society that they need not fear for their life and liberty. This hope has been destroyed," the letter lamented.
"In both cases, Prime Minister, it is your party which is in power. Given your supremacy within the party and the centralized control you and your Party President exercise, you more than anyone else have to be held responsible for this terrifying state of affairs," the former senior bureaucrats said in the letter.
India's top court on Monday requested that the Jammu and Kashmir government to provide security to the family of Asifa Bano, the eight-year-old Kathua gangrape, along with the lawyer working on the case as they have faced death threats with increasing pressure mounting on the authorities to solve the case which has left the country outraged.
"I was threatened yesterday (Sunday) that ‘we will not forgive you’. I am going to tell the supreme court that I am in danger,” said lawyer Deepika Singh Rawat who has actively sought an investigation into the case since the girl’s body was found in January.
"As an interim measure, it is directed that the Jammu and Kashmir Police beef up the security and provide adequate security personnel to the family, Deepika Singh Rajawat and family friend Talid Hussain," the top bench said, India Today reported.
Eight men accused in the case involving the murder and crime of Bano also appeared in front of the state high court as part of the first hearing in the case Monday.
The Crime Branch of police which probed the case filed the main charge sheet against seven people and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district, the newspaper reported.
Viewing the chasm between the Hindus and the Muslims over the case, the Jammu and Kashmir government has appointed two special public prosecutors, both Sikhs, another Indian religious sect, to ensure "neutrality" in the case.
On April 13, the highest court also initiated its own judicial process to investigate the lawyers charged with obstruction, saying such impediment, "affects the dispensation of justice and would amount to obstruction of access to justice."
The court has called for responses from the Bar Council of India, Jammu and Kashmir Bar Council, Jammu High Court Bar Association and Kathua District Bar Association, as some of the communal riots were triggered by members of the bar and lawyers belonging to these associations.
The Apex court has also sought a response from the state government by April 27, the next date of hearings, to decide on the request made by Bano's family of moving the case out of Kathua court to Chandigarh as their hometown, Jammu, continues to deal with a communally-charged atmosphere.