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.