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.
Phase II LS Polls: Srinagar PC records 14% turnout
District-wise: Srinagar 7%, Budgam 21%, Ganderbal 16% ;
Boycott, shutdown, clashes witnessed; 70% turnout in Udhampur PC
Srinagar, Apr 18: Srinagar Parliamentary Constituency Thursday sided with poll boycott as merely 14.1% voters exercised their franchise in the constituency where elections were held in tight security.
In the 2014 general election, Srinagar had witnessed a turnout of 25.86 per cent which fell to 7.2 per cent in the 2017 Lok Sabha bypoll.
Udhampur Constituency, on the other hand, witnessed 70.1% turnout during the day.
The polling for the second phase of Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir “remained peaceful and incident-free”, Chief Electoral Officer Shailendra Kumar told reporters here.
Kumar said Srinagar district recorded the lowest turnout of 7.69 per cent while Reasi district in Udhampur constituency recorded the highest of 73 per cent among the nine districts where polling was conducted Thursday in the state.
Ganderbal district recorded 16.7 per cent while in Budgam district, the turnout was 21.5 per cent, the CEO said.
According to sources, as many as 90 polling booths, mostly in downtown Srinagar, saw no voting. Srinagar constituency had 1,716 polling stations.
As per reports, at least 25 youth and government forces’ personnel were injured in clashes in several parts of central Kashmir.
A constable of Armed Police Vipon Kumar of 5th battalion was injured after being hit by a stone during clashes at Charar-i-sharief in Budgam, Head Constable Hafizullah was injured at Kakaring Charisharief, Head Constable Ghulam Mohammad of IR 4th, constable Sajad, constable Rahul Malik and three CRPF men were injured in Beerwah Town.
Similar reports of clashes were reported from Machowa, Kralpora, Hafroo, Chadoora in Budgam, Srinagar’s Safakadal, Nowabazar, Gojwara, Hawal, Batamaloo and some parts of Ganderbal including Mammar Kangan and Barsoo.
The government forces deployed in these areas used tear smoke shells, pellets and few aerial shots to disperse the protesting youth during which eighteen persons including a woman were injured.
Among the injured, one youth namely Mohammad Asif Bhat sustained a bullet wound in his thigh at Hafroo Chadoora and was immediately taken to nearby hospital from where he was referred to Bone and Joints Hospital in Srinagar for specialised treatment.
Meanwhile, the internet services were suspended in poll-bound districts of Valley since Tuesday night while as the speed was throttled elsewhere in Kashmir.
MHA suspends cross LoC trade
‘Route illegal inflow of weapons, narcotics currency’
Srinagar, Apr 18: The Government of India Thursday suspended trade along the Line of Control at Salamabad and Chakan-da-bagh in J&K stating that the routes were used for “inflow of weapons, narcotics and currency”.
According to the order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the action was taken after the Ministry “received that cross LoC trade routes in J&K are being misused by Pakistan based elements. The misuse involves illegal inflows of weapons, narcotics, and currency”
It said the cross-LoC trade mechanism is therefore suspended till a stricter regulatory regime is put in place. “This is to ensure that only bonafide trade takes place, for the benefit of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, through this mechanism,” it said.
The trade was part of the confidence-building measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan and was started in October 2008.
The Cross LoC routes — Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route in Kashmir valley and Poonch-Rawalakote route in Jammu division — which are being used to ferry goods between J&K and Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK). More than 600 traders are registered for the cross LoC trade and 21 items are on the approved export and import list from both the routes.
Mehbooba, Omar flay decision
Former state chief ministers, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, on Thursday criticised the Ministry of Home Affairs’ decision to suspend cross-LoC trade in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Using Kashmir as a scapegoat to claw its way back to power won’t help BJP. It’s an excuse to worsen ties with Pak despite their peace overtures. By doing this, PM Modi has dismantled a CBM initiated by Vajpayee ji. Won’t be surprised if an attack on Pak is in the offing,” PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted soon after the MHA ordered the suspension.
Omar Abdullah too reacted: “The Modi Govt buries another of the Vajpayee era CBM. Cross-LoC trade was a legacy of the Vajpayee Govt to facilitate greater people-to-people contact across the Line of Control in J&K”.
‘I voted to get a passport and see my son in Pak’
Srinagar, Apr 18: As the elderly seemed enthused by the idea of electing a representative in Srinagar parliamentary elections, many of them had their own distinctly apolitical (and probably unachievable) expectations from the voting process.
This reporter Thursday visited various polling booths of the uptown areas here. A posse of gun totting CRPF personnel guarded all of them.
In one such booth in government girls’ higher secondary school Rajbagh, a frail woman walked in. A young man held her arm as she slowly walked towards the booth where the voting machine was set up.
Clad in a light pink salwar kameez and a ruffle shawl, the woman was limping her way (probably due to tender ankles or knees) to the actual booth.
She had her own motherly reason to take this painful walk.
Misra Begum, 70, a resident of Ikhrajpora said her primary reason to vote was to get a passport and travel documents to see her son in Pakistan.
“My son crossed the border for arms training twelve years ago but he never came back and is now settled in Pakistan. More than a decade has passed and I am yet to see his face,” she said.
“I am dying to meet him. At least once before I close these eyes forever, I want to see my son again. My only purpose of casting a vote is to get me a passport and the travel documents,” Misra said.
Misra’s eyes twinkled as she stared at this reporter. It seemed she even expected this reporter could do something to end her wait and help her meet her son.
Like Misra, 70-year-old Abdul Majeed Shah too voted to bring his sons back.
“I am casting a vote to bring my sons home,” said Majeed, heaving a sigh as he sat on his haunches in the lawn of Chanapora higher secondary school.
“Both of my sons have finished their degrees and were jobless and in great distress. With no option left, they left Kashmir and are now working in other states,” he said.
“My wife suffers from paralysis and I also suffer from multiple ailments. We want our sons to be around us in this age but what to do? We are helpless. I am hopeful that a new CM and party will bring happiness in our lives,” Majeed said, apparently not knowing the difference between Parliamentary and Assembly elections.
Shameema Begum, 60, who seemed to have respiratory problems as she talked, had a more text-bookish answer when asked why she voted.
“Why should I waste my fundamental right to vote? We need good roads, and uninterrupted electricity supply. There are so many problems that can only be addressed by good leadership,” she said in a panting voice.
Shameema, however, gave a puzzled look when asked about the threats hovering on Article 35-A and Kashmir’s special status.
“I don’t know what that is. I only believe we can get our basic facilities when we cast a vote,” she said.
At the polling booth in Burn Hall school of Sonwar Constituency, Ghulam Nabi, 56, sat on the wooden bench while talking animatedly with a local police man.
“For the last four and half years, PDP-BJP has done absolutely nothing for the state. Look at the condition of the roads and how the youth of the valley are suffering in absence of any employment,” said Ghulam, who is associated with Tourism sector.
“Dr Farooq Abdullah is the only leader who can truly represent the aspirations of the people and resolve the Kashmir issue,” he said revealing that he, like many, was a staunch NC supporter.
Another man in his early seventies overheard the conversation and was desperate to chip in. He spoke in a hoarse voice, “Ghulam Nabi Sahab is absolutely right. Only NC can bring the people of Kashmir out of misery.”
“I have come here at the break of the dawn when everyone was asleep. I have always voted for NC and will continue to do so. The love for the party runs in my blood,” the man said.