It has been more than three months since the brutalised body of an 8-year-old girl, from the nomadic muslim community of Bakkerwals, was found in Rasana area of Jammu’s Kathua region. Amidst horrifying allegations and much silence for over three months, voices started to come in support of the victim after the chargesheet filed by the Crime Branch detailed the horror the minor girl went through.
The outrage compounded by the support of right wing Hindu parties that came out rallying for the rapists, against whom the police has presented scientific, and forensic evidence.
But the outrage was missing on the roads and social media when the news of the gruesome rape and murder first came out.
On January 13-14, near the minor girl’s village, in Kathua district, a marriage ceremony was taking place. There was news about a missing girl in the ceremony, the locals were talking about it. Attending the wedding was advocate turned Tribal rights activist Talib Hussain.
Belonging to a nomad family, who are mainly Muslim, and have traditionally moved from Kashmir to Jammu, crossing the Peer Panjal mountain range to escape the harsh weather during winters, Hussain has been aware of his community’s crisis. Traditional routes torn apart due to the Line of Control, many have family across the LoC, and have been at the receiving ends in Kashmir due to the conflict, and in Jammu due to their religion lately.
Hussain says that the festivity of the marriage suddenly switched off when he heard the news of the missing minor, as a phone showing her picture, with big staring eyes, and an innocent smile, was passed to him.
“I saw the picture, we started looking for her, I also spoke to the concerned SSP,” says Hussain, who has been with her family since then. “When I shared the story and the photo on social media, it went viral.”
Shortly, her dead body was found. While the family was mourning the loss, Hussain says, the Bar Association Jammu, some BJP ministers and members of the Hindu Ekta Manch ganged up in support of the accused right after the news of her death. Even the graveyard where her battered body was taken for a burial, Hussain says, was denied.
“Though there were 7 graves at the graveyard, they did not let us bury her there. We had to take her about 6-7 kilometres away from there and bid farewell to her.”
On January 17, she was buried and from that very day to January 27, Hussain says the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department stopped the water supply to the Bakerwal community living in the area. “PHE is a governmental department of water supply!” he exclaims.
After about three weeks, while he was going on a hunger strike as none of the accused was getting arrested, Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, had conveyed a message to Hussain saying that she had come across the news, and wanted to present the case.
“Being a mother of a 5-year-old girl, the brutal rape and murder of a 8-year old child, and then two ministers of the party in power, the BJP, going and provoking locals to break the peace order, was sufficient to motivate me to fight for the girl,” Advocate Rajawat says. “I am lawyer bound by the constitution and I have ethics and morals.”
After Hussain had visited her, they together approached the victim’s parents who went to the court with them.
“We filed a writ petition in the High court and demanded the monitoring of the investigation. It was monitored and the chargesheet was produced. Now, everything is in front of you,” she says.
The condition of the family, she says, is very bad. At present, nothing is happening in the case. However, Rajawat is trying to shift the trial to a safe place, away from hostile Kathua. Apart from the Minority Muslim Tribal community that was threatened, Rajawat says that she was also threatened by the President of the Bar Association Jammu.
At another level, while Hussain and Rajawat worked on the ground, activists across the mountains in Kashmir, formed a forum showing their solidarity using the hashtag #JusticeForAsifa.
They played a role as a pressure group in making the news go viral in the public domain. While Kathua was on the boil, they arranged events in Kashmir so that people would get to know about it, and build pressure on the authorities so they could help Rajawat and Hussain get justice for the victim and her family.
Hailing from Anantnag, Rayees Rasool, who works as a Human Rights Defender is one of the founding members of an informal voluntary group ‘Asifa Solidarity Forum’. Rasool says that no one really talked about the case apart from a few people after the news regarding her rape and murder broke. The deafening silence was questionable.
“I saw the news regarding the Manch’s rally and called my friends in Jammu asking as to what is going on in there. I spoke to Talib who was arrested then. We had to talk about it because the trouble would have increased for the whole Bakerwal community. The minor girl became a soft target, of hate against the whole community. The family basically belongs to a village in Islamabad in South Kashmir where I am from. They had migrated to Rasana village…”
The forum said that anyone, except for a person directly or indirectly related to Indian political system, will be included in the group. The first event the forum conducted, was in Srinagar’s Pratap Park. At another seminar, Advocate Rajawat spoke to the press for the first time. “Talib, civil society members and lawyers also spoke that day.”
“Doctors and students started pouring support and solidarity. We spoke to the victim’s family, her lawyer Deepika and Talib. We asked them what they required us to do and they said that the most important thing was to bring it out in the public domain. Since then, we have been organising different solidarity events along with a social media campaign,” says Rasool.
“The recent statement by the President Bar Association that for now, they have the flag in their hands, tomorrow they can pick up guns or bombs. It is a clear indication that it is a communal issue, which is targeted at Muslims, be they Mulism Tribals, or Rohingya Refugees. The Trade Association has also said that if Rohingyas would not be moved out in one month, they will start a campaign of ‘Identify and kill’,” says Rasool .
The investigation of the case was completed before the set time. Talking about the role of police officials in the investigation Inspector General of Police, Crime Branch, Syed Mujtaba told Free Press Kashmir that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed to investigate the case.
SP Crime Branch, Kashmir Naveed Peerzada was specially called to Jammu to lead the Special Investigation team, which Mujtaba says included DSP Shatambri, Nisar Hussain Shah, Inspector Keval Kishor, Sub- Inspector Urfan Wani and ASI Tariq Ahmad.
“Ramesh Kumar Jalla was supervising the SIT,” says Mujtaba adding that the investigation was registered on January 10 and on April 9, the challan was submitted.
Mujtaba says, “Our conduct, laws and rules do not allow us to tamper with the evidence or go against the law itself. There are things in the press like we might have had political pressures while investigating. We go by the evidence.”
This is not the first case wherein the motive has been to dislodge the minority. According to Hussain, such efforts have been made earlier as well. “In 2015, Yaqoob was murdered. On Chandra Prakash Ganga’s directions, SHO Badibramana, Bharat Bhushan Sharma had shot him dead, out in the open. I still have the video footage of that incident. I gave it to the Governor and Chief Minister of Kashmir but nothing happened. Instead, he got a presidential award!” narrates Hussain.
“Before that in 2013, in Nagrota, police committed a murdered. There have been endless murders in Jammu to dislocate the community,” he says, maintaining that “the fight to get justice has a long way ahead”.