(MAIL ONLINE) — A two-year-old girl has been strangled to death in India after her father allegedly failed to repay a £113 debt.
The Hindu girl went missing from her family home in Aligarh district, northern India, on May 30 before her decomposed body was found at a rubbish dump on June 2.
Two Muslim men have since confessed to carrying out the crime, police have said, inflaming racial tensions in the region.
Hundreds of riot police have been deployed and the internet disabled in an attempt to keep the peace.
Two other people – relatives of those who have confessed – have also been arrested and accused of helping dispose of the body.
The brutal killing – which saw the girl’s eyes gouged out before stray dogs ate part of the body – has caused outrage among locals.
Reports that the girl had been raped which circulated immediately after her remains were discovered further increased the anger.
Police say they have found no evidence of sexual assault yet, but two of the suspects were arrested under India’s sexual offences act and DNA samples from the girl’s body have also been sent for testing.
Right-wing Hindu groups, including those backing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have led the protests in Tappal, urging authorities to mete out ‘instant justice’ to the perpetrators.
A prominent leader of the far-right Vishwa Hindu Parishad group was stopped by police from visiting the girl’s family on Monday, and on Sunday members of another radical group gathered to demand the death penalty for the accused.
The groups also tried to organise a ‘grand assembly’ but police thwarted their attempt.
‘We have clamped section 144 (prohibiting unlawful assembly) and internet has been suspended in Tappal,’ district magistrate Chandra Bhushan Singh told AFP on Tuesday.
‘Additional police forces have been deployed as a precautionary measure. The situation is normal as of now.’
Police were also clamping down on those sharing fake social media posts which were likely to ‘inflame communal passions’, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The Times of India daily reported on Tuesday that a Muslim family in a minibus in the area was allegedly attacked on Sunday by men on motorcycles and only escaped because a Hindu woman was travelling with them.
‘They beat me, my daughter who wore a veil and our driver,’ Shafi Mohammad Abbasi, one of the seven members of the Muslim family, told the newspaper.
‘Pooja (the Hindu woman) stepped out and boldly confronted the attackers.’
Critics accuse Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP of sowing divisions nationally between religious communities in India, around 170 million of whose 1.3 billion people are Muslims.
Under Modi, in power since 2014 and re-elected last month, several cities with names rooted in India’s Islamic Mughul past have been re-named and hardliners are hopeful that his second term will see more progress towards Hindu hegemony.
A string of lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs over so-called cow protection – a sacred animal for many Hindus – and other hate crimes has sown fear and despair in what is the world’s second-largest Muslim population.