Rape of an eight-year-old girl child in Indian administered Kashmir has put the restive state on edge.
In the early hours of January 17, Mohamed Yusuf Pujwala was sitting outside his home when he came to know from his neighbors about the death of his eight-year-old daughter, Asifa Bano. Her body lay in bushes in the forest, a few hundred meters away.
“I knew something horrible had happened to my girl,” said Mr. Pujwala, a 52-year-old with deep sunken eyes, told the media. His wife, Naseema Bibi, sat beside him, crying faintly and murmuring ‘Asifa’.
The crime has shocked the community, exposing the fault traces between Hindu-majority Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.
Pujwala belongs to a community of Muslims nomadic shepherds called Gujjars who crisscross the Himalayas with their goats and buffaloes.
Police have arrested eight men, including a retired government official, four police officers and a juvenile in connection with Asifa’s death.
Alternatively, the arrests sparked protests in Jammu – attorneys attempted to prevent police getting into the court docket to document a price sheet and two ministers from the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Birthday celebration (BJP) attended a rally in reinforce of the accused.
The BJP controls the state in a coalition with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Asifa went missing on January 10, her circle of relatives used to be residing in a village around 72km (45 miles) east of Jammu town.
On that afternoon, her mom remembers, Asifa went to the woodland to carry house the horses. The horses returned, however, Asifa didn’t.
Six days after Asifa’s death, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, ordered an investigation through the crime department, a different unit of the state police.
According to the investigators, Asifa was 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.
Sanji Ram, a 60-year-old retired government officer, allegedly planned the crime with the help of police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta and Tilak Raj Mr. Khajuria.
They believe that the accused men wished to terrorize the Gujjar community into leaving Jammu.
The Gujjars wanted to bury Asifa in a graveyard where they had purchased some land a few years ago and had already buried five people but when they arrived there, Pujwala said, they were surrounded by Hindu right-wing activists who threatened them with violence if they were to continue with the burial.
“We had to walk seven miles to bury her in another village,” Pujwala said. Two of his daughters were killed in an accident some years ago. On his wife’s insistence, he adopted Asifa, the daughter of his brother-in-law.
His wife described Asifa as a “chirping bird” who ran like a “deer”. When they traveled, she looked after the herd. “That made her the darling of the community,” Ms. Bibi said. “She was the center of our universe.”