Justice for Aasifa: A look at the events
On January 17, bruised body of a 9-year-old Muslim girl, Aasifa, was found in the forest near Rasana, Hiranagar, Jammu. The girl had been missing for a week. She had bite marks on her lips; nails of her hands had turned black. Her genitals had been brutally lamed.
According to police, she had been abducted, drugged to keep her from trying to help and later raped.
Rayees Rasool, one of the members of the ongoing campaign, Justice For Asifa Solidarity forum – which is a gathering of concerned civilians and activists – is fearful that the Hindu Ekta Manch has taken cudgels with the government and is shoring support to help exculpate the dreaded rapists and murderers.
The Hindu right-wing people under the banner of Hindu Ekta Manch in Kathua have unabashedly campaigned, under police protection, against the arrest of accused and his accomplices, which is nothing short of jarring for any law-abiding citizen.
JASF – Justice for Aasifa Solidarity Forum – has been initiating various committed protests to make sure that this case is taken to its logical end and the perpetrators are punished.
“Our peaceful protests will continue in varied forms to ensure that the communal and biased forces do not become successful in aiding the release of the perpetrators and harassing the Gujjar community,” said Rayees Rasool in the concluding minutes of a meeting organized by JASF in Srinagar.
After the post-mortem, a group of youth belonging to Hindu Right Wing disallowed her burial in the graveyard owned by Asifa’s family and relatives. According to the local All Tribal Coordinating Committee ( ATCC ), the right-wing youth threatened the already marginalized and victimized Gujjar community of communal clashes if she was buried in the graveyard there.
“I worry about the safety and security of Asifa’s parents, the concerned activists who are reportedly being harassed, and the whole Gujjar community at large,” said Dr. Khawar Khan Achakzai – a doctor by profession – in the meeting.
This incident must not be seen as an isolated case. The history of Jammu is witness to the brutal assault on the collective Muslim community. The incident is not an ordinary case of spreading of Hindu right-wing sentiments but as their rallies represent, it is a collective political force of Congress as well as BJP, coming together against the Muslim nomad minority and spreading the threat to other areas of the Jammu division.
“They actually want to drive all the nomads away from Hiranagar-Kathua belt,” Khawar added.
Dipika Singh- lawyer of Asifa- provides some case details:
Ceaselessly fighting to make sure the criminals, who callously raped and murdered an innocent child are dealt with punishment that matches their crime, Dipika said, “So far Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir has arrested six people including two Special Police Officers ( SPOs ) Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Verma. Others are Shubam Sangra, Hawaldar Tilak Raj, posted at the Hiranagar police station, Sub-inspector Anand Datta and Pravesh Kumar for their involvement in the horrific and brutal crime of minor nomad girl.”
Adding to the statement, Dipika claimed that the court on 14th March directed the CB to arrest Sanji Ram, a retired revenue officer, the mastermind of the rape and murder of Asifa and a key driver of the Hindu Ekta Manch protests.
Sanji Ram is also the custodian of the premises where Asifa was held captive for a week. Earlier Ram had denied any involvement and was evading police investigation.
Initially, the local police tried to avoid the case but then the CM probe was initiated. It directed CB to take over the case. Meanwhile, Deepika came to know about the case.
“When I came to know about the case I, with Talib Hussain – a local activist from Gujjar Community – did not delay in filing the petition in the high court. It was very important that the high court should monitor the investigation and give the command to government agencies in investigating the case,” said Dipika.
“We filed a request in the high court under Article 226 of the Indian constitution and Section 103 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, to kindly monitor the case and take it to the logical end”, she added.
The first report that came to high court was from CB in which each and everything was quoted. Thereafter the seriousness in the investigation came.
The biggest achievement for Dipika was when the case came in sight of the High Court. The government agencies who were initially avoiding the investigation had nothing left but to accept the commands of High court and provide the details.
In the initial days of the case, Dipika accepts that she received many threats which put her under pressure but what kept her going was the support from local concerned people and activists in Jammu as well as Kashmir.
“It was nothing short of outrageous to witness the local community in Kathua shielding the accused,” said Dipika.
“ I have been fighting the case since 2 months now and when I view the support of local people, I erase my fears,” said Dipika enthusiastically.
Talib Hussain, a local activist from Gujjar Community:
Talib Hussain believes that the intention behind Manch rally is to force the Gujjars to leave Rasana and other places. “No different was the idea behind disallowing Asifa’s burial in the graveyard of her ancestors,” he says. “They know the crime branch probe will expose them before the people that’s why they are crying for a CBI probe.”
“The crime was perpetrated deliberately on the minor girl to scare the minuscule Muslim community in the area. It is an RSS plan to frighten four to the percent of the Muslim population in Samba and Kathua and dispossess them of their land and property”, said Talib.
Political atmosphere on Edge?
Some activists see the case of rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl in kathua in the light of the political atmosphere that has been building up in the state, more particularly in some districts of Jammu.
The questions that have caught the public imagination is if the crime committed by the police officer is just an act of savagery and an aberration or there is more than what meets the eyes. Some activists across Jammu and Kashmir believe that it is not simply a criminal act but a planned move “to create terror among the nomadic community living in the kathua for bringing demographic change” in the area.
Shakeel Qalander, a Kashmiri activist, believes that the rally taken out by the right-wing Hindu Ekta Munch in support of the accused, with hundreds of supporters, carrying tri color to give it a nationalist color, it needs no further explanation that underneath the incident there is huge politics.
“The rally in support of the accused and the politics developing around it cannot be disconnected from the larger political narrative of the state,” he says. “We cannot delink it from ugly situations that brutalized our society at some crucial stages in our history more particularly towards the end of the feudal rule.”
He believes that had the then political leadership not blindfolded itself to the situation obtaining in Jammu the carnage could not have been of that magnitude and exodus of about half a million could have been prevented. He ends by saying, “let’s not repeat the autumn of 1947.”
The participation of two BJP ministers, Minister for Forest Chowdhary Lal Singh and Minister for Commerce and Industries Chander Prakash Ganga, in a rally organized by Hindu Ekta Munch, has put PDP in anger. The two ministers with other participants of the rally wanted to hand over the case of rape and murder of a minor girl to Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI ) and called for the release of accused on the charges of rape and murder.
Meanwhile, senior PDP leader and minister for education Altaf Bukhari said his party would end the alliance with the BJP if it fails to deliver justice in the rape and murder case of 9-year-old girl in kathua district of Jammu.
Lal Singh raised question over the state government’s decision to hand over the case to the Crime Branch. Singh said, “Why officials from Kashmir were specifically called for the investigation? Were the officials from Jammu unable to do the investigation?”
Kingpin surrenders before police after son’s arrest:
The man who was allegedly the brains behind the rape and murder of the minor girl Asifa has surrendered before the Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir Police. Incidentally, Sanji Ram was seen taking part in protests by Hindu Ekta Manch, which was formed after the crime took place. The group had taken out rallies against the arrest of the accused and demanded that the case be transferred to the CBI.
Sources in the police said that the case, that was threatening polarization in the state and had become a major crisis in the ruling coalition, has reached the logical conclusion.
“We have eight persons in custody and all of them are accused,” one police officer said. “These include two cops, two SPOs, the juvenile and his friend who kidnapped and raped the girl and the mastermind father and son.”
Sheikh Saqib is an independent storyteller from Srinagar, Kashmir
Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not necessarily reflect the position or editorial policy of Oracle Opinions.