Rape and murder of Kashmiri – girls in religious policy
SRINAGAR (Indian-occupied Kashmir)—The girl, just 8 years old, grazes the ponies of her family on a cold January day in the forests of the Himalayan foothills when she was kidnapped. Her raped and mutilated body was found in the woods a week later.
In 2012, the deadly gang rape of a young woman in the heart of the Indian capital put hundreds of thousands of Indians on the streets to demand stricter rape laws.
But the rape, torture and death of a Muslim girl in India-controlled Kashmir is over witnessed other protests: Thousands of members of a radical Hindu group with links to the ruling party marched to demand the release of the six men accused of repeatedly raping and killing the girl in a Hindu temple. Hundreds of Hindu lawyers have protested that the men, two of them policemen, are innocent.
The girl who was devastated in the attacks had enormous eyes, a quiet smile and a name: Asifa [Bano]. The Associated Press usually does not identify victims of sexual violence, but her name has been extensively reported in the Indian media.
In this constitutionally secular nation of 1.3 billion, there was always a difference between the Muslim minority and the Hindu majority. In the decades since India gained freedom from Great Britain in 1947, sporadic riots arose, causing bloody religious unrest when the subcontinent was divided to create largely Hindu India and largely Muslim Pakistan.
For the most part, however, day-to-day interactions between Hindus and Muslims were largely peaceful. But this polite distance has changed into a split since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in a decisive electoral victory. India`s religious minorities, especially the Muslims, who make up 13 percent of the population, have since become increasingly isolated as attacks by extremist Hindu groups have increased.
So it was in Kathua, the small town in the Jammu-Kashmir state, where the girls were attacked. The police say the attack was planned for more than a month to get the Bakarwals, a Muslim community of nomad shepherds, to leave the area.
In recent years, conflicts between Muslim nomads and indigenous Hindus have been seething over land disputes. Hindus claimed that the shepherds intervened in their land. There were scuffles after nomadic girls were allegedly harassed by Hindus.
Kashmir has over 1 million nomadic shepherds, including the Bakarwals, who mainly keep sheep, goats and horses. For centuries they have wandered on highland pastures and forests every summer, returning to the Jammu plains in winter to graze their animals and live in temporary shelters.
But in the last 20 years, some have settled in permanent homes, usually built in forests, sparking conflicts with people already living in those areas.
For some time, tensions between Muslims and some Hindus in the Kathua area have been high, said Javaid Rahi, the Jammu Kashmir tribal foundation, a nonprofit group investigating the state`s nomadic people.”
The crisis has intensified ever since the BJP came to power and some fanatical Hindus in Jammu have jointly polarized the atmosphere, he said.
The police say the attack on Asifa was rooted in religious politics, with a group of local men intending to scare off the Bakarwals by merely kidnapping a girl. But once they had Asifa, this plan was quickly forgotten. Forensic reports say she was stunned with anti-anxiety drugs, repeatedly raped, burned, killed with a stone, and strangled. Eventually, her body was thrown into the forest, where it was found a week later.
While the gang rape of New Delhi in 2012 prompted India to investigate the widespread sexual violence, they urged protracted cops and politicians to do so seriously, the attack in Kashmir is entangled in the divisive religious policies used in the last four years.
Soon after the suspects were arrested, members of the extremist Hindu Ekta Manch or Hindu Unity Platform marched through the streets of Jammu, the largest city in southern Kashmir, bearing a massive Indian flag and Long Live India! sings and demands that the police release the men. The group has ties to the ruling BJP, and two BJP legislators have publicly defended the accused men.
On April 9, Hindu lawyers in Kathua tried to prevent the police from filing their investigation report with the local court. They alleged that the police investigation was flawed and alleged that the six Hindu men who had been charged had been framed.
The police have been forced to answer to the investigating judge Men, including two policemen, are accused of being directly involved in the attacks on Asifa. One of these policemen is also said to have participated in the search for her body. Two other police were arrested for attempting to destroy evidence.
The case has sparked sharp reactions from across the country.
“Too many BJP supporters seem willing to give up their tough stance on sexual violence based on religious prejudice. The police allege Asifa`s rape and murder was part of an effort to drive the Muslim community away from the area. Yet, for the local lawyers and other BJP supporters, the suspects and the Muslim victim reason to block the prosecution of the case, said Human Rights Watch in a statement on April 11.
The policy on the rape and killing of a child has upset many of the area`s Hindu residents too.
Apart from politics, it is terrible that some people see this terrible crime through a religious prism to cover a few kilometers, it`s a new low and I know not if we can sit back for a while, said Girdhari Lal, a retired teacher in Jammu.
Photo: Members of the Kashmiri Joint Resistance Leadership stage a protest in Srinagar Feb. 22, demanding the death penalty for Indian special police officer Deepak Khajuria, who is accused of involvement in the rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa. Khujaria was arrested Feb. 10. Source: AFP/Getty Images).