A priest and three other men were charged with the gang rape and murder of a so-called “lower-caste” nine-year-old girl, Indian police said, in a case that sparked days of protests in the capital, New Delhi.
The girl was allegedly assaulted by the priest, 53, and three workers on August 1 after she went into a crematorium to ask for water.
The four men, who have been in custody since they were arrested in early August, face the death penalty.
The girl’s mother earlier told police the men called her to the crematorium and said her daughter had been electrocuted. They said if she reported the incident to police, doctors conducting an autopsy would remove her child’s organs and sell them.
Her daughter’s body was then cremated before some locals intervened and pulled the charred remains from the pyre.
A 400-page charge sheet from Delhi Police cited “scientific, technical and other evidence” and witness testimony after the accused were charged, the government said in a statement late Saturday.
Making the charges within 30 days of the alleged incident reflected “zero tolerance” of crimes against women and girls in the nation of 1.3 billion people, it said.
India is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Home ministry data from last year said a woman is raped every 15 minutes in the South Asian country. But large numbers of sexual assaults are believed to go unreported.
Despite India’s stringent anti-rape laws, activists and feminists say the situation on the ground has not improved.
A report published by the National Dalit Movement for Justice in September last year said close to 400,000 incidents of violence were reported between 2009 and 2018, a six-percent increase from the previous decade.