An eight-year-old dalit girl whose body was found floating in a canal in Bihar's Saharsa district was raped before being murdered, police and hospital sources have told The Hindu . The girl, a resident of the remote village of Belwara Punarwas, had gone missing on Monday night. The rape-murder of the child comes in the midst of a growing national furore over violence against women, sparked off by the gang-rape of a Delhi woman on Sunday.

The girl’s father told The Hindu his daughter had left home around 6.00 pm on Tuesday, to call his brother home from the chicken coop where he was working. “The place is located around half a kilometre from our house. She gave the message to him and started to return home. My brother told her to go ahead and that he would follow suit. The pathway to the coop is a proper road with houses on either side. I don’t know what happened on the way,” Mr Paswan said.

When the girl did not return till late, her father went in search for her in vain. By 9 p.m. she was still untraceable. The village too launched a search. “In the morning”, the father said, “my girl’s mother went to look for her. Near a canal, about 250 metres from the house, she found her dupatta and chappals. On approaching the waterway, she first saw her feet floating in the water.”

The police have registered a case of rape, murder and causing disappearance of evidence against unknown persons. Saharsa Superintendent of Police Ajit Kumar Satyarthi told The Hindu that the police were “sure” the crime has been committed by a person from the village. “She could have been murdered lest she named her assaulter,” Mr. Satyarthi said.

District hospital sources confirmed to The Hindu that the post-mortem examination found evidence of rape. The girl’s mother was inconsolable. “She ate, she went out; she was all of eight,” cried her mother. The victim’s uncle said no top official had come to visit the family. “Only one inspector came to investigate. If someone is raped in Delhi, the nation is outraged. If someone is raped here no one knows about it.”