Srinagar, Jan 21: When a shepherd found eight-year-old Asifa’s body in the bushes of Rassana, a village in Kathua’s Hiranagar, on January 17, it had been eight days since she had gone missing.
Asifa’s family along with neighbours and police had passed over the same spot multiple times during their search for the child but had not found any clue of her until that day.
For the family, the last memory of the child, on the afternoon of January 10, was her clad in a colourful shalwar kameez and a grin on her innocent face.
She, as per her uncle, Ali Jan, had taken the family’s horses to the nearby pond.
That memory, however, was replaced by a gruesome image of her body so beaten up that waist down – as per those who bathed the child – many of her bones were crushed.
“It seemed that they had used some heavy log or a stone to crush her legs. There were bite marks on her face and shoulders,” Jan told The Kashmir Monitor over the phone.
On Sunday, four days after little Asifa was buried, the family and the rest of the local Bakarwal community gathered in the village to ask a few questions.
“How can a 15-year old keep an 8-year old captive for a more than a week and then kill her so gruesomely? Why did police look out for Asifa in the nearby jungle and not the village when we told them that we had thoroughly searched for her in the woods,” the people asked.
Following the issue being highlighted in the ongoing Assembly in Jammu, the government, on Friday, had hurriedly called for a magisterial probe into the incident.
On the same day, the government claimed that a Special Investigation Team had arrested a 15-year-old boy who, they said, had confessed to murdering Asifa.
Giving details of the investigation, Parliamentary Affairs minister Abdul Rehman Veeri then informed the Assembly that the accused had “kidnapped the minor girl and put her in nearby cowshed at village Rassana, where he attempted to rape her and when she resisted, he killed her by way of strangulation”.
The family as well as the entire Bakarwal community in the area, however, refuses to accept this version.
Jan, Asifa’s uncle, claims that police did not do their job even as they lodged First Information Report in the case on January 11.
“On 11th, the local Police told us that it is sarkari kaam and would happen at its own pace. On January 12, they sent a party along with some shepherds to the nearby jungle. We told them that we had already looked for her there and that they should rather look in the village,” said Jan.
For the next five more days, police could not find the child until the Bakarwals themselves found her body dumped in the woods.
“The doctor who came along with the police on seeing the body said the death had taken place only 24-48 hours ago,” Jan said.
“Accusing the 15-year old is only a way to shield others, who are essentially anti-Bakarwal and have shown their resentment before this incident as well,” he claimed.
He said the incident was not just an isolated one but a part of a “conspiracy” to drive out the minority Bakarwal community, which comprises around 1 percent of the entire population of Tehsil Hiranagar.
The family related to the 15-year old boy accused of the crime, as per Jan, used to “hurl abuses on seeing any Bakarwal passing their way”.
Jan said the majority community in the area did not even allow them to bury Asifa’s body in the piece of land the Bakarwals had bought back in 2002.
“They came with weapons and sticks forcing us to take the body to our relatives’ place, who live at least 5 kilometers away and bury it there,” Jan said.
“They told us ‘we did not sell you the land to bury the dead’. They want to drive us out …Marna to sab ko hai magar yeh hamme marne ke baad bhi jagah nahi dete (everyone has to die but they don’t even allow us to be buried in our place).”
Jan said his family has been living on the outskirts of the village for at least five decades now.
Chowdhary Anwar Phamra, in-charge All Tribal Coordination Committee J&K, corroborated whatever Jan claimed.
Anwar too claimed that one family, whose head is a former Patwari, had ever been anti-Bakarwal.
“He along with his son and the 15-year-old nephew knew about all this. How can a teenager do all this alone? Asifa was kept abducted for six days in a shed; she had only died around 24 hours before when her body was found. She was raped. I cannot even say what else they had done to her,” Anwar said.
He too alleged that the case was not an isolated one but part of the “larger conspiracy that has begun after BJP and RSS came into power in Kashmir.”
“We have been living here for decades but since the new government came into power, the majority community has been provoked by BJP and RSS men to act against us and force us to leave our birthplaces. This little child’s murder is part of that plan,” he said.
Anwar said the Bakarwal community demands that an FIR should be lodged against the concerned SHO, Police Station Hiranagar, and rather than SIT, the investigation should be conducted judicially.
“Who should we ask justice from? Everyone is against us, be it Tehsildar, Patwari, policemen…everyone,” he said.
5 dead, as many missing as avalanche hits Khardung La pass
Srinagar, Jan 18: Five persons were killed and five others missing after their truck came under an avalanche in the Khardung La area of the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir on Friday, officials said.
The avalanche hit the truck carrying 10 persons at the Khardung La pass in the Ladakh region at 7 am, an official of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) said.
The BRO pressed into service its men and machinery to rescue the passengers of the truck, who were believed to be trapped under the debris, he added.
The police, Army and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel had also reached the spot, the BRO official said.
“So far, the bodies of five persons have been recovered from the avalanche site, while a search is on for the other missing persons,” he added.
A bulldozer driver posted at the Khardung La Pass said two tippers and a Scorpio vehicle carrying about 12 persons left towards K-top area early morning to load snow to Leh.
“One tipper was already loaded with snow. However, the mishap occurred when they were loading another vehicle. Suddenly, an avalanche hit them and 10 people in a tipper were buried under the snow,” he said.
A senior police official said, “At least 10-12 people were trapped under the snow and a body of a local resident from Leh has been recovered from the area. Fresh snowfall took place in the area on Thursday and they had gone to collect snow in a vehicle.”
Rescue teams of police, Border Roads Organisation and Jammu and Kashmir Disaster Management Force reached the spot.
A high alert for avalanche was sounded on Thursday by the administration following adverse weather advisory by the Met department.
Guv expresses grief, announces Rs 5 lakh compensation
Jammu, Jan 18: Governor Satya Pal Malik has expressed grief over loss of precious lives due to snow avalanche at Khardung La in Leh district, Friday morning.
In his message, a Raj Bhavan spokesperson said, the Governor prayed for eternal peace to the departed souls and strength to the bereaved families in their hour of grief.
Governor has announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 5 lakh for the next of the kin of those killed in the avalanche.
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and vice president Omar Abdullah too expressed deep sorrow over the loss of lives in the avalanche.
The party spokesman in a statement said that the duo has urged the administration to expedite the rescue operation and ensure all support to the families of the deceased.
Both Farooq and Omar urged the governor administration to gear up its men and machinery to meet any eventuality in wake of heavy snowfall as predicted by the local MeT officials.
Impressing upon the administration to ensure that people don’t have to suffer due to the vagaries of weather, the duo urged the administration to ensure all arterial and other routes are kept open to avoid any suffering to people.
Kashmir braces for heavy snow spell from today
Srinagar, Jan 18: As the meteorological department has predicted another spell of moderate to heavy snowfall in the Kashmir region from Saturday onwards, people in Kashmir are readying themselves by keeping ample stock of food and ensuring proper heating arrangements are put in place.
With the western disturbances likely to affect the region, the officials have also warned of disruption of road, rail and air traffic from Saturday afternoon.
“The western disturbances are most likely to affect the state and its adjoining areas from January 19 to 25, with the main activity between January 20 and 23 and gradual decrease thereafter,” Sonam Lotus, director Meteorological department said.
He said moderate to heavy snowfall and rain was expected at widespread places of the Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions.
“Some places may receive very heavy rain and snow during this period,” he said, adding that light snowfall would begin at a few places in Kashmir on Saturday morning and increase in intensity and distribution thereafter.
On Friday, Kargil recorded the night’s lowest temperature at minus 19.2 degrees Celsius while neighbouring Leh recorded a minimum temperature of minus 15.6, Met office said.
Drass town was the coldest in the Jammu and Kashmir at minus 27.1.
Srinagar, the summer capital of the state recorded a low of minus 0.7 while the mercury in Qazigund in south Kashmir settled at a low of minus 0.7 degrees Celsius.
Gulmarg, the famous skiing resort in north Kashmir, recorded a low of minus 10.0 degrees Celsius while night temperature in Pahalgam – the famous health resort settled at a low of minus 10.3 degrees.
Kokernag town recorded a low of minus 2.0 degrees Celsius while Kupwara town in north Kashmir registered a low of minus 2.8 degrees Celsius last night.
Jammu city recorded 5.3 degrees Celsius, Katra 6.3, Batote 2.5, Bannihal 0.7 and Bhaderwah minus 0.8 degree Celsius.
Twin grenade attacks in city-centre, Shopian
Srinagar, Jan 18: Less than 24 hours after the Rajbagh grenade attack, militants on Friday carried out two more grenade attacks on government forces in Kashmir, including one in the city-centre Lal Chowk here.
Militants lobbed a grenade at a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) bunker at Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower) in Lal Chowk in the afternoon, a police official said.
The grenade exploded on the roadside, he said, adding that no one was hurt in the attack.
A private car parked on the roadside was partly damaged due to the explosion, the official said.
Window panes of a few shops on either side of the road were also damaged because of the blast.
This was the second such attack on government forces in Srinagar within 24 hours.
Earlier on Thursday, militants had hurled a grenade on police personnel at Zero Bridge here, resulting in injuries to three policemen.
In another incident on Friday, militants lobbed a grenade at a police camp in Gagran village of Shopian district of south Kashmir. However there was no report of loss of life or damage to property.
A police spokesperson came out with the following statement later in the day: Police had to attend two “terror” crime spots today following the reports of grenade attack by militants at Srinagar and Shopian. Officers from the local police units immediately reached to both the crime spot this (Friday) afternoon to initiate the investigation in the matter.
“While attending the crime spot, officers did not receive any report pertaining to the loss of life or property. Police has registered cases for both the incidents. Officers from the local police units are at work to establish the full circumstances which led to these incidents. If you have any information that can assist police in its investigation, you may kindly contact Police,” the spokesperson said.
The three attacks come days ahead of the Republic day and is likely to push government forces for taking even more stringent ‘security’ arrangements, especially in and around the city.
Later in the day, militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed the responsibility of the grenade attacks in Srinagar and Shopian.
A spokesperson of JeM Mohammad Hassan in a statement to news agency GNS claimed that three forces personnel were injured in the attack at City Centre Lal Chowk.
He also claimed that several forces personnel were critically injured in the attack at Gagran in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
The Kashmir Monitor also received a phone call from one Hamza Rashid, who said he was the spokesperson of Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front, and claimed the responsibility of the Lal Chowk grenade attack.