Murder and rape of 8-year-old inflames religious tensions in northern India

Indian women sit during a protest organized by 'Delhi Commission for Women' in New Delhi on April 13, 2018, outside Raj Ghat, memorial for Indian independence icon Mahatama Gandhi.

New Delhi (CNN)The brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl, in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, has inflamed religious tensions and sparked widespread protests, in a case that is threatening to further destabilize an already restive region.

The small, lifeless body of the girl, whose identity is protected by Indian law, was recovered from a forest in the isolated Himalayan district of Kathua in late January after an extensive police search.
But it was the horrifying details that emerged following a police investigation made public this month that have seen the case gain nationwide attention.
    Police say the young girl, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic community known as the Bakarwals, was abducted while grazing horses in a meadow on January 12.
    From there, it is alleged she was taken to a Hindu temple, where she was drugged and held captive for five days.
    During that period, police say she was raped repeatedly by several different men, before being murdered and dumped in a nearby forest on January 17. Postmortem reports concluded that she had been strangled to death.
    Police have arrested eight men in connection with the death of the girl, including a retired government official and three police officers.
    But rather than quell tensions, the swift police action has had the opposite effect, transforming the case into a lightning rod for radical sectarian anger.
    The accused, all whom are Hindu, have seen their case picked up by an unlikely coalition of religious nationalists and legal professionals, who together have launched a campaign to have the charges dropped and the case handed over to federal investigators.
    At the center of the controversy is a debate over the impartiality of the local police investigators, who supporters of the accused claim are biased, owing to their Muslim faith.
    Indian demonstrators gather at the India Gate monument for a late night candlelight vigil on April 13.