Beyond Murder

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Jammu Muslims are in shock over the recovery of an 8-year-old cute Bakerwal girl’s body, a week after her mysterious disappearance. The tragedy struck the state, even the courts awarded death sentences in a similar case in Mehjoor Nagar Srinagar and earlier in Tabina Gani case as well. But the Kathua case has an additional baggage of minority distrust that added up to a limit in last few years, reports R S Gull

Parents of young Bakerwal girl mourning the brutal killing of their daughter.

Rasana is a sleepy village, far away from Jammu, in Kathua. It has a tiny nomad community that, off late, has lost sleep after the gruesome murder of an eight-year-old girl. Grief, fear, and anger are now stalking the 40 odd Bakerwal families after the minor was mercilessly done to death, seven days after she disappeared mysteriously, one km down her hill house where she had taken the horses to a ditch.

The family of the girl alleges she was raped and tortured before her tiny body was dumped on a roadside. They say the police looked the other way even after they registered a formal case.

On Thursday, the issue rocked the state assembly, currently in session at Jammu, where members of opposition National Conference and Congress created an uproar. Members demanded a fair and speedy inquiry and justice to the family of the poor minor girl. National Conference working president Omar Abdullah demanded a judicial probe into the incident. It was hours after the ruckus that the state government upgraded the police Special Investigation Team (SIT) into a magisterial inquiry. The government, however, did not explain the police inaction.

The incident came to light after the Bakerwal community blocked the Jammu-Pathankot highway alleging police was ‘’deliberately’’ going slow on the case because they suspect village’s ‘’known criminal elements” were behind the heinous crime. ‘’Police is deliberately shielding some influential people who enjoy political patronage,’’ a cousin of the girl told Kashmir Life.

Mohammad Yousuf, girl’s distraught father, said her daughter’s modesty was outraged. She bore torture marks on her face and some other body parts, he said. ‘’Savages could not see that she was so young.’’

“She was bitten on her lips. There were marks of violence on her thigh and face,” he cried, as dozens of mourners arrived at his home for condolence.

Mother in mourning. Image: Qayoom Khan

The way to Yousuf’s home is rough as one has to go through acres of bush-ground and a track laid of boulders and mud. The lone house, on a mound, is surrounded by dense shrubbery and one has to get past a maze to actually reach it. There are a few dozen houses of the nomad, a tiny population in the Rasana village where the majority is Brahmin. A few Dalits also live there.

When this reporter reached Yousuf’s home, his wife Naseema was surrounded by around half a dozen women who were trying to calm her down. But she looked in shock, 48 hours after her daughter was lowered into a grave.

Fighting back tears she said her daughter disappeared on January 10, when she took the horses and mules to the ditch at around 12 o’clock just a km downhill. She was also looking for a mule. The horses drink water near the ditch and are washed there occasionally.

“When she did not arrive for an hour, I called her father to look for her. We kept searching until evening but could not find her. We started calling relatives but there was no trace of her,” she recalled.

Police came to the Bakerwal family, only to mourn the death. Photo: Qayoom Khan

“We kept searching for her for last seven days. We went to forests and villages around but she could not be found anywhere. We also approached police but they took the issue very lightly,’’ said Javeed Khan, maternal uncle of the girl. He said on January 17, a woman informed Yousuf that girl’s body was lying some distance away from his home. “Police later arrived on the spot and her body was taken for a post-mortem. We buried her last night. People stopped traffic on the main Jammu-Pathankot highway seeking a probe in the incident.”

Khan said the women who gave the girl the ritual bath before her burial revealed she was raped and thrashed before she was done to death. ‘’Her face has burn scars. I could not look at her face. It has numbed the village.’’

Nayeema Mehjoor, the chairperson of the state’s top woman body, visited the victim family and expressed anguish. She promised a fair investigation. She said police have lodged a murder case but are awaiting her post-mortem report.

“That report will only confirm how she was murdered and other allegations (of rape),” she said, adding government has formed a SIT to probe the case. Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti took to Twitter to express her outrage after the opposition had protested vociferously in the house.

Faithfully Disowned

“Outraged by the heinous incident in which a young Bakerwal girl has lost her life. Incidents like this will be investigated expeditiously & the guilty will be punished,” she tweeted.

The proceedings of Jammu and Kashmir assembly were disrupted after opposition MLAs alleged minorities were harassed by the ruling PDP BJP alliance in the state. The issue rocked the assembly on Thursday and later on Friday. Main Altaf, influential Gujjar leader from Kashmir accused the government that minorities in Jammu were harassed. The opposition walked out in protest. It was only later that Abdul RehmanVeeri, Law Minister, responded saying the government has appointed SIT and has also announced a magisterial inquiry.

Mourners at the residence of the slain baby’s home. KL Image: Qayoom Khan

A local tribal leader who is espousing the cause of the Gujjar and Bakerwal community in Jammu plains alleged the crime was perpetuated deliberately on the minor to scare away the minuscule Muslim community in the area.

‘’Actually, the majority community does not want Muslims to stay there even on their genuine lands. The idea is to frighten them and dispossess them of their land and property. This is an RSS plan,’’ he alleged. He linked the incident with the literal banishment of Gujjars from the forests and, later, setting fire to their properties even outside the woods. The lower Jammu districts of Samba and Kathua have a 2 and 4 percent Muslim population respectively.

‘’The Gujjars and Bakerwals have never witnessed such a harassment before,” Talib Hussain, a lawyer, and an activist said. “The understanding in PDP-BJP government is that Kashmir should be governed by PDP and Jammu by BJP and both will not interfere in each other’s territory. But this is seriously dangerous. For the first time in last 70 years, we are feeling threatened.’’

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