The Jammu and Kashmir Police have requested two Sikh police officers to be appointed special prosecuting officers to investigate the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in the Kathua district, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday.

While some officers in the department told the daily that the move to appoint the Sikh officers was an attempt to prevent further polarisation in the state, others, including the state’s director general of police, said the decision was not based on the officers’ religion.

The police, in their chargesheet in the case, have specifically said the crime was a plot to “dislodge the Bakarwal community in Rasana”, the village in the Kathua district where the eight-year-old girl lived. The chargesheet said the child had became a “soft target” in tensions between the nomadic Gujjar-Bakarwal community, who are a Muslim minority, and the Hindus.

Eight people, including a juvenile, are named accused in the chargesheet, which details how the girl from Jammu was abducted in January, held captive in a temple, drugged, raped repeatedly and then murdered. Her body was found in the forests near Rasana on January 17.

The police want the Crime Branch case to be represented by Bhupinder Singh, the Chief Prosecuting Officer in the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s prosecution wing, and Harminder Singh, the Chief Prosecuting Officer in Samba, according to The Indian Express report.

Director General of Police SP Vaid told the daily that he had written to the principal secretary (Home) about appointing the two officers, and added that it was the officers’ “profession, and not religious identity” that was important. “In fact, the people who were opposing the Crime Branch investigation into the case were also trying to raise accusations against our team. I gave them the same answer,” Vaid said.

Other officials, however, said the police wanted prosecuting officers “from a neutral faith” to avoid communal division. “So much communal politics has been played in Jammu over this case that the entire atmosphere is polluted,” a police officer told The Indian Express. “Those who are campaigning in favour of the accused have been questioning the Crime Branch probe only on communal grounds.’’