Asifa Bano rape and murder case: Tension between Hindu and Muslim

Asifa was an eight-year-old girl who once lived happily in Kathua, Jammu, and Kashmir, in northern India. She used to graze her horses in the meadows when one day she was lured away by a juvenile and kidnapped. The horses returned home that day but Asifa did not. Days later, her lifeless body was recovered in the bushes in Rasana. She was not fed for the four days, sedated and continuously raped by three men. Asifa was tortured for days. She was strangled to death and then hit on the head twice with a stone. This is the worst possible end of life for a young child. A half an hour uphill trek through the dense forest will get you to Rasana village of kathua. She lived in the only house built in the forest area which is now locked up.

The grim incident happened in January, earlier this year, which slowly wake up Indian and international media. Asifa, an 8-year-old girl went missing on 10th of January, when she went into the forest to herd her horses. Her father, uncle and other villagers went on searching her but they couldn’t find her. The family went to the police station to file a missing complaint on 12th January. According to sources, the police at that time was not helpful. Five days later, her tiny, lifeless body was found in the bushes, a few hundred meters away from her home. As the news spread, protest all over the valley started. Six days after Asifa’s body was found on 23rd January, Mehbooba Mufti, The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, ordered an investigation by the crime branch, a special unit of the state police.

Sanji Ram, a 60-year-old retired government officer, allegedly planned the crime with the help of police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Deepak Khajuria. Sanji Ram’s son, Vishal, his nephew, a juvenile, and his friend, Parvesh Kumar, are also accused of the rape and murder. According to the investigators, Asifa was lured, kidnapped and confined in a local temple for several days and given sedatives that kept her unconscious. The charge sheet alleges that she was “raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered”. She was strangled to death and then hit on the head twice with a stone to assure her death.

The eight men accused of raping and killing Asifa are Hindu. Asifa was a Muslim nomad, part of the Bakarwal tribe. Asifa’s father, Mohammad Yusuf Pujwala, told the media that he believes his daughter was killed by the Hindu men for the sole purpose of driving her people away. To add to the volatility of Asifa’s case, police say she was killed in a temple and that the temple’s custodian plotted her death as a way to torment the Bakarwals.

Sanji Ram used every possible effort at his disposal to subvert investigations by the crime branch. He also bribed the police and the university officials in Uttar Pradesh where his son is studying. The policemen in charge of the case washed Asifa’s bloodied and mud-spattered clothes before sending them to a forensic lab. His son, now in custody, arrived from his university to rape the minor girl, according to the charge sheet. But the agitators in Jammu have turned a blind eye to these grave charges.

The conflict is all about the succession of the land. People believe that the accused men and their community wished to terrorize the Gujjar community into leaving Jammu. The shepherds use public and forest land in Jammu for grazing, which has recently brought them into conflict with some Hindu residents in the region. The motive was to hound the Nomad Muslims out of their region.

“It was about land,” said Talib Hussain, a tribal rights activist and lawyer. Mr. Hussain, who led a protest in support of Asifa’s family, alleges he was arrested and threatened by local police.

Sanji Ram, who planned Asifa’s abduction, was “against the settlement” of Bakarwals in Kathua and “always kept on motivating members of his community of the area not to provide land for grazing or any other kind of assistance”, the charge sheet said.

One of the lawyers who protested on behalf of the accused alleged that the Muslim nomads were trying to alter the demographics of Jammu, where Hindus are currently the majority. “They are using our forests and water resources,”. He said the accused had been falsely framed while the real culprits were still free.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who met the union home minister in Delhi yestersiasat.comday has tweeted, saying her government will come up with a tough law to deal with those who rape minors.

This ghastly incident is really disappointing. The worst part is the politicians and lawyers protesting and trying to block the Jammu & Kashmir Crime Branch from filing a charge sheet against the accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl at Kathua. On the contrary photographs of two BJP state ministers waving the Tricolor in support of the accused have surfaced on social media.

The most disheartening thing about this case is that the case happened in January and it took all three months for media to cover it.

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