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Rape of 8-year-old Muslim girl in Hindu religious place in Jammu shakes India’ conscience

4th May 2018
Rape of 8-year-old Muslim girl in Hindu religious place in Jammu shakes India’ conscience

Asifa Bano (Photo: Courtesy of the family)

Sajeda Haider

The rape of children  is tragically common in India, there were almost 19,000 reported cases of child rapes, in 2016 alone, however, the gang rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano in Jammu and Kashmir shook the nation’s conscience not just because of the sheer brutality of the crime, but because of the motives and the subsequent action by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Asifa was abducted by a retired 60-year-old civil servant Sanji Ram and taken to a ‘devasthan’, a Hindu religious place, on January 10. A post-mortem examination on her little-battered body revealed she was drugged with a sedative, starved, tortured and repeatedly raped for a week by Ram, and three others. Once they had had enough of her they strangled Asifa and to make sure she was dead, bashed her head in with a 2-pound stone.

Asifa walked into the forest to bring home the horses on the day she went missing. The horses returned but Asifa did not. Her father Muhammed Yusuf Pujwala and some neighbours searched deep into the forest through the night. Two days later, on January 12, the family filed a police report. But the police were unhelpful with one officer telling the family their 8-year-old must have “eloped with a boy”.

According to the police investigation, those who raped her include Ram ’s nephew, a policeman as well as his son who he called to Kathua in Jammu from Delhi to “quench his lust”.

The horrors that Asifa suffered are so heart-wrenching but the motive behind the crime is just as sickening.

Asifa belonged to the nomadic Bakarwal Muslim community of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India. For generations, the Bakarwal community spent their summers in Kargil in Kashmir tending their goats and cows, and during the winter when the Himalayas are covered in snow they make their 600km journey to Kathua in Jammu with their livestock.

Over the last 30 years, militancy and right-wing religious polarising agenda followed by the BJP and its mentor the RSS, the state have been divided into a predominantly Hindu Jammu and Muslim Kashmir. The police investigation reveals that Asifa was raped and killed with the purpose of frightening the Bakarwal community out of Jammu.

“We have been coming here for generations but things started changing in the last few years,” said, Asifa’s father. He claimed that once Ram retired and became one of the main elders of the village he started falsely accusing the Bakarwals of smuggling cows, selling drugs, and creating problems for the Hindus of Jammu.

“I thought Sanji Ram was just angry over some of our cattle damaging crops, we never thought they could take revenge like this”, added Pujwala.

Once Asifa’s brutalised body was found in the nearby forest, her family was not allowed to bury her in the graveyard the Bakarwals had bought in the village by local Hindu right-wing activists and instead had to bury her in another village 7 miles away.

Three months later when the police attempted to file charge sheets against the eight accused they were prevented by the right-wing Hindu Ekta Manch and Jammu’s high court lawyers association outside the court who were supporting the rapists. Two BJP Ministers – Jammu and Kashmir has a coalition government of the BJP and PDP – participated in protests provoking people that Muslim policemen had ‘wrongly’ arrested Hindus and they would ensure the release of those taken into custody. It was only when this drama unfolded that the country got to know about the heinous crime.

Spontaneous demonstrations erupted throughout India demanding justice for Asifa, but the ruling dispensation including Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, remained unmoved. That Modi has very little empathy for crimes against Muslims is well-documented, he was the Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat who presided over the anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 in which over 3,000 men, women and children were killed and over 200 Muslim women raped, and has till date not expressed any remorse or regret for allowing such horrors to happen under his watch.

Asifa’s rape and murder has exposed the religious divides the BJP has created across the country, particularly since Modi took over as Prime Minister.

Her little body has become the battlefield used by political bigots to win elections. However, it has also revolted citizens sufficiently to ask what sort of politics the BJP Government is playing.

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