by Pallavi Sareen
JAMMU: Almost 10 months after an 8-year old nomadic Bakerwal girl was brutally raped and murdered in Kathua’s Rasana village, her family is facing an existential crisis with villagers refusing to give them fodder for their herds. Cattle are their main source of the tribal family’s income.
“We are Bakarwals,” Mohammad Yousuf, father of the slain girl, said. “Now that the trial is going on in the court, the (villagers) are denying us the fodder in order to completely weaken us. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I don’t have anything apart from these animals. If I don’t get land for their grazing, they will die. If they die, I will not have a reason to live either.”
Mohammed Yousuf is the main petitioner as he is the father of the girl, though he got support from Bakerwal activist Talib Hussain and lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat in getting the court activated that led to the registration and investigation of the case. Yousuf has dropped Rajawat as his lawyer.
After the investigation was completed by the state police Crime Branch, the trial was shifted to Pathankot on Supreme Court directions. The trial is going on in the case.
The family is facing the crisis after they returned home with their herds from Kashmir. They had left Jammu at the peak of the crisis and spent their summers in Kashmir meadows grazing their herds. Once they reached home, they started facing the crisis. Villagers have denied them permission to graze their cattle on their lands.
“Since Tribals don’t have their own lands, they will either stay on forest land, government land or lease land from private individuals. They pay to the people for using their land for grazing,” Javed Rahi, a tribal activist said. “After the politicization of the Rasana rape case, the atmosphere is tense in this small village. Since the lands belong to the villagers, they have a right to lease it or not.”
Rahi said the tribals, however, have a right over forests. “Even we are against land grabbers but where should they go? No allotment has been done, no provision exists for facilitating their stay after migration,” Rahi said. “It is not right to evict them without creating means for them beforehand.”
Jammu and Kashmir is one of the few Indian states that is yet to give the right to the tribals. The Forest Rights Act, SC/ST Authority Act and other provisions which are part of Indian constitution have not yet been extended to Jammu and Kashmir. “Being a resident of J&K, we have a right over the land here. The ex-Governor had constituted a committee in regards to tribals and they sent a report to the government but political parties have their own agendas and so nothing became of it,” Rahi said.
The Rasana rape was a major tragedy that had serious fallout on the politics of the state.
When the minor girl went missing on January 10, 2018, her family was living in a village around 72km (45 miles) east of Jammu city. On that afternoon, her mother recalls, her daughter went to the forest to bring home the horses. The horses returned but her daughter did not. Two days later, on 12 January, the family filed a police complaint. As news of the crime spread, Gujjars staged protests and blocked a highway, forcing police to search for the girl. Five days later, on January 15, 2018, her body was found.
The inhumane incident that shook the global community saw the political and communal tug-of-war in April, months after her body was discovered. As the enraged society reacted, two BJP ministers had to put in their papers. The incident eventually contributed to the collapse of the BJPDP government.
While the trial is going on, the family of the unfortunate girl that has returned home is now facing the crisis as it is unable to maintain its herds, its only source of income.