Asifa Murder and Rape jolts Kashmir like nothing in recent times

Srinagar: Pressure is mounting on the state government to provide stringent punishment to the culprits involved in the rape and murder of the eight-year-old Asifa Bano fromRasana village in Kathua’s Hira Nagararea in Jammu region. Three months ago, Asifa, who belonged to the nomadic Bakarwal community, was kidnapped as she was herding horses (January 10) and was found dead, a week later. She was kidnapped, raped and brutally tortured before being killed.

The kidnapping, rape and murder of Asifa went unnoticed for a week and her mutilated body was discoveredonly onJanuary 17. Two days later, police arrested a minor boy and claimed that he had held her hostage in a cattle-shed in Rasana village and strangled her when she resisted rape. Later, the Station House Officer (SHO) of Hira Nagar police station was suspended, a magisterial inquiry and Crime Branch investigations ordered. Subsequently, the Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir police on February 9 arrested Special Police Officer (SPO) Deepak Khajuria who had participated in the search parties and had also handed over her body to the family. On 16th February, the Crime Branch arrested another SPO, Surinder Kumar, and later others. The findings of the Crime Branch showed that the rape and murder was a well-planned move and that the motive was to spread fear among the Bakarwal community and force it to move out of the area.

As days passed by, the rape and murder of a minor girl snowballed into a major controversy especially after pro-rapist protests were carried out by Hindu Ekta Manch, a recently formed outfit spearheading protests and organizing rallies and staging sit-ins in support of the perpetrators and to press the government to order an investigation by a central probing agency controlled by the BJP government in Delhi.

As the Crime Branch filed a main chargesheet against seven accused and a separate chargesheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district, last week, some lawyers from Jammu Bar Association protested and stopped the Crime Branch from filing the chargesheet against the accused in the case. The chargesheet revealed chilling details about how the girl was kidnapped, drugged, raped inside a place of worship (temple) before being brutally killed. However, a strike called by Jammu Bar Association evoked lukewarm response and sought the transfer of the case from Crime Branch to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).Even Zahoor Wani, senior campaigner of Amnesty International India, said on April 12, “It is disgraceful that some lawyers and members of the BJP are trying to introduce religious prejudice into the investigation of this horrific crime, and block its investigation. The fact that the Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court actually had to order police protection for the lawyer of the victim’s parents shows how deep the bigotry around this case runs.”

Sensing the mood of the situation, ruling coalition partner PDP threatened to end alliance in the state. The party demanded immediate removal of two BJP ministers -- Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga --  who had participated in a rally organized by the Hindu Ekta Manch in support of the accused. Both the ministers, however, submitted their resignations to the party president on April 13.

CM Mehbooba Mufti’s brother and Tourism Minister Tasaduq Mufti was quoted on April 13 as saying “we (PDP) have ended up being partners in a crime (with BJP) that an entire generation of Kashmiris might have to pay with their blood. I am not going to be quiet and act as if I am unmoved by the tragedy that is unfolding at ground level, just because I am part of the government. All lives matter. Lives of the people on both sides of  the ideological divide. And this is a government for the people and I see nothing wrong in standing with the people to find a solution to the ongoing crisis.” Even Chief Minister (April 12) tweeted that justice will be delivered in the case and the law will not be obstructed by the irresponsible actions and statements of a group of people.

The opposition National Conference president Farooq Abdullah(April 12)warned of launching a civil disobedience movement against the government if it failed to act against the two ministers who rallied in support of the accused.The party (April 13) expelled the block president of Hiranagar-North in Kathua district Shanti Saroop from the primary membership of the party for life.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence over the rape and killing of a minor girl. The leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad  said that if any Congress leader was involved in defense of rapist, he or she, should be put behind the bars. Even the Apex Court of the country on April 13 sent a notice to the Bar Council of Jammu and Kashmir for preventing the filing of a chargesheet against the accused in the case and the top court also decided to examine, of its own accord, the gang-rape and murder case.

Protests were staged in various parts of the state on April 13 demanding exemplary punishment for the guilty. Even people cutting across different political ideologies and from different walks of life plead that death penalty would bring justice to the minor girl who has fallen to the clutches of brutal monsters. The worst part of the story is that Asifa’s family members abandoned their home in Rasana village out of fear amid communal tensions.