Eight men accused of the gang rape, torture and murder of an eight-year-old girl in India have pleaded not guilty in court.
In January, the little girl went missing while she was grazing her family's ponies in Kashmir. Her battered body then found on January 17 in the forest near Kathua city.
As the BBC reports, police say the girl had been sedated at a Hindu temple and was repeatedly raped and then bludgeoned and strangled to death.
Autorities allege that the kidnapping of the girl, who belonged to a Musim nomadic tribe, was planned for more than a month by the eight Hindu men.
The charge sheet alleges that the rape and killing was intended to drive the nomads out of the out of Kathua district in Jammu, a predpminantly Hindu region within the Muslim majority state, The Guardian notes.
A retired government official, four police officers and a minor are included in the group of eight accused men.
Lawyer for the accused, Ankur Sharma, says the men who have pleaded not guilty are prepared to take a lie detector test.
Hindu right-wing groups have since erupted in protest following the men's arrest. Two ministers from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even showed their support for the men at rallies.
Thousands of people also took to the streets across India to protest violence against women in response to the eight-year-old girl’s death, as well as the reported rape and murder of another girl in northern India.
The case has been adjourned until April 28.