Editor's note: This story contains details of sexual violence.
The alleged rape of a minor — this time a toddler — has once again shocked the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was still recovering from the rape and murder of an 8-year-old in January last year.
Protests erupted across the state after news of the case, involving a 3-year-old, emerged.
According to the complaint lodged by the victim’s family, the child was playing outside her home on May 8 when her uncle left her to offer his daily prayers just a short walk from her home. While the child was alone, 20-year-old neighbor Tahir Ahmad Mir is believed to have lured the child away with sweets and taken her to the a nearby school in the Bandipore district of Kashmir, where he then raped her.
As news of the shocking attack spread across the valley, several protests erupted in Kashmir, where students took to the streets and shops closed in solidarity with the child. Since then, thousands of outraged protestors have joined the ongoing demonstration.
The child is now in stable condition, after her mother found her and rushed her to the hospital.
“I finished the evening prayers as the mosque announced iftaar. I started looking for her outside the house and after a while, heard her calling out in a weak voice. I pushed open the bathroom door and saw her on the floor with blood on her clothes,” her mother told the Indian Express.
“She has been sleeping most of the time but I can feel how much pain she is in. She doesn’t even understand what has happened,” she added.
The child was able to identify Mir as her attacker. He was immediately arrested by the police.
"The accused had tried to flee, but we caught him," the toddler's father, Shair Ali Dar, told BBC Hindi. "We want justice and stringent punishment."
The suspect’s family produced a handwritten birth certificate from a private school on Monday, , claiming that he was 13 years old, not 20. But protestors have questioned the authenticity of the certificate, saying it is an effort to classify him as a juvenile and save him from a life sentence for sexually abusing a minor as an adult.
Outraged demonstrators blocked highways and clashed with various government officials, causing the protests to turn violent. Police and parliamentary soldiers fired shotgun pellets and tear gas to stop the stone-throwing protesters who are demanding capital punishment for the accused. About 100 civilians and government representatives have been injured since the protests began.
Even though India has introduced several laws to curb sexual violence in the past, major change has yet to be seen. According to statistics from India's National Crime Records Bureau, 4 out of 10 rape victims are minors. And even as the government struggles to deal with the outrage and continuing protests in Jammu and Kashmir, reports of another minor being raped about 25 miles from Bandipore have come to light.
If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access the 24-7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org. You can find international resources here.