After four serial rape cases reported from different parts of Haryana in the past fortnight, now an eight-year-old (name withheld to protect family) from Hiranagar tehsil in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district became the victim of sexual violence. The minor victim belonging to the Bakerwal or Gujjar community (nomadic tribe who are goatherds and shepherds based in the entire Kashmir region between India and Pakistan) was abducted on January 10, held captive for a week and raped before she was murdered.
Her body was found on January 17 deep inside bushes located over a kilometre from her home near a police station. Her family suspects that she was electrocuted to death as there were severe burn and bite marks on her body.
The police have constituted a Special Investigation Team led by a Superintendent of Police rank officer to probe the incident and one arrest has been made so far. “As soon as we received a missing complaint, we registered an FIR on January 12 and launched a search operation but her whereabouts could not be traced. After the body of the girl was found, we rounded up few people and arrested a boy who is a minor. Our investigation is still on and we are trying to nab all those who were involved in the heinous crime,” Kathua Senior Superintendent of Police Mohammad Suleman Choudhary told Newsclick.
But the victim’s family and the community accuse the police of not making sincere efforts to trace the girl even after registration of a missing complaint on January 11. “The parents and relatives of the victim went to police station to lodge a missing complaint but officials denied to do so and asked the worried family to trace her on their own. The police lodged the complaint on January 11 but told the family to keep patience as it is government work that takes time. Instead of searching her in the village, the police visited forest areas and that too only once. The jungle is best known to be second home for tribals and no one knows jungle better than them,” said Waqar Bhatti, an activist who along with others and family members is fighting for justice.
He said the body of the girl was badly mutilated with bites of human teeth. “The goons tried to crush her body with stones due to which her collar bone, ribs, arms and hip were broken,” he described.
Terming the arrest of the minor boy an attempt to “cover up” the matter and let go the culprits “scot free”, Bhatti said, “The police on January 19 claimed to have solved the case by nabbing a 15-year-old boy who they say has confessed to commit the crime and he kept the girl in a cowshed. The questions that arise here are: how can a 15-year-old boy manage to hide girl for seven days and that too in cowshed without any help, how did he manage to get live wire for electrocution and how did he manage to hide himself from the police and the girl’s family? The most important question is that how come this boy managed to hide this heinous crime from his own family. The police is trying to save the real culprits by arresting a juvenile. This is real foul play,” he alleged.
The family and people of the area suspect involvement of locals associated with various Hindutva espousing outfits, which – according to them – wants to throw the Gujjar Muslim tribals out from the region. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates are active in this belt and there has been simmering tension particularly with regard to the Bakerwal community.
“This has been done by the local people. No outsider is involved in the incident,” the victim’s 40-year-old mother told Newsclick. When asked whom does she suspect, the traumatized mother who is struggling to come to terms with the gruesome murder of her only child said, “Those who don’t want us to stay here.”
Locals allege that this is not the first time when such a brutal attack has been carried out to scare the community. “Since the BJP has come to power in the state, crackdowns against them are going on in Jammu, Katua and Samba districts. Their houses have been raised and mosques demolished. Youth are abducted her and the family is scared to speak against out. Fear has been instilled among them that they may be driven out of the village,” said a relative.
The incident on Friday sparked protests in Ramban district. The protesters blocked the Maitra -Ramban road for half an hour to demand the arrest of killers demanding a judicial inquiry into the case.
Though the protesters claimed that it was a peaceful protest, the police resorted to lathi charge in which several people suffered injuries. Waqar said one of the agitators also died on the spot when the cops opened fire, an allegation that was rubbished by the police. “They (the protesters) blocked the highway for around four hours despite the fact that their demand of a judicial probe has been accepted. We had to use mild force to disperse them once they began throwing stones. Five policemen suffered injuries in the stone pelting. It is a rumour that we opened fire on the protesters. No one has died in the police action,” said the SSP.
Ironically, there is no outcry in the media which is maintaining silence on the gruesome rape and murder. Perhaps, because it has not happened in a big city and therefore will not make it to big news.