A seven-year-old girl was raped and murdered during a wedding in India. 

A 23-year-old from the village of Etah was arrested after he was found lying drunk next to the victim’s body, police in the town of Kotwali Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, told The Independent

The man, who was reportedly hired to set up a tent for the wedding, allegedly dragged the girl to a construction site, while guests were preoccupied by the celebrations. 

There, he is accused of raping the girl, before choking her to death.

Police told The Times of India that she was found semi-naked with strangulation marks on her neck and blood stains on her abdomen in the early hours of Tuesday morning. 

It comes as eight men accused of involvement in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state appeared in court for the first hearing in a case sparking nationwide outrage and criticism of the ruling party.

The girl, from a nomadic community that roams the forests of Kashmir, was drugged, held captive in a Hindu temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January, police said.

Public anger at the crime led to protests in cities across India over the past few days, with outrage fuelled by support for the accused initially shown by state government ministers from prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The protests have also focused on another rape allegedly involving a BJP politician in crime-ridden Uttar Pradesh, a poor northern state with the country’s biggest population.

The outrage has drawn parallels with massive protests that followed the gang rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus in 2012, which forced the then Congress-led government to enact tough new rape laws including the death penalty.

India has long been plagued by violence against women and children – reported rapes climbed 60 per cent from 2012 to 40,000 in 2016. Many more go unreported, especially in rural areas.

Reports of torture, rape and murder of another child have emerged from Mr Modi’s western home state of Gujarat, where the corpse of a girl was found near a cricket ground in the city of Surat a week ago.

The post-mortem showed she had been tortured and sexually assaulted before being strangled. Her body had 86 injury marks, including some inflicted to her genitalia with hard, blunt objects, while more minor injuries suggest she had been beaten with a stick or slapped.

Doctors estimated the unidentified girl was about 12, police said.

As the groundswell of revulsion grew, Mr Modi assured the country that the guilty would not be shielded, but he has been criticised for failing to speak out sooner.

Before leaving for an official visit to Europe this week, Mr Modi received a letter from 50 former police chiefs, ambassadors and senior civil servants upbraiding the political leadership over its weak response.

“The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old child shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk into,” the former officials said.

“In post-Independence India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties inadequate and feeble.”

The letter went further by blaming the BJP and like-minded right-wing Hindu groups for promoting a culture of “majoritarian belligerence and aggression” in Jammu, and in the Uttar Pradesh case it blasted the party for using feudal strongmen, who behave like gangsters, to shore up its rule.

The former officials said they held no political affiliation other than to uphold the values of India’s secular constitution that guarantees equal rights to all citizens. Some of the signatories have spoken out in the past also against Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist party accusing it of whipping up hostility towards India’s 172 million Muslims.

Additional reporting by Reuters