Justice for Asifa protest in Srinagar

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Martin Luther King).

Aasifa, 8 years old girl belonging to Gujjar community of Rassana village of Hiranagar Kathua was brutally raped, murdered and was decomposed nearby forests in the month of January 2018.  After five days, her body was found in soaked blood and mud, which led to the suspicious that the girl was brutally murdered. A large number of people protested against this brutal killing. Besides the protest, the other sections of the society condemned this act and demanded for fair inquiry and strong action against the accused. The chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti also condemned the act and promised that the matter will be dealt with law and justice would be prevailed to the victim. The case was handed to crime branch and it was found in the initial stage that the Jammu and Kashmir police tried to wash out all evidences regarding the case. The crime branch arrested the special police officer of J &K police Deepak Khajuria and his associate Surinder Singh’s involvement in the hegenious crime. As soon as the perpetrators were arrested, the people of Hindu Ekta Munch came out in support of the rapists and it was found that the rally waived the National Flag and chanted the slogans of Bharat Mata Ki Jai and jai Shree Ram in favour of the rapists. After that, a similar rally comes out with the same agenda in favour of Shambuji, who killed and burned the Muslim Bengali Labour in Rajasthan. The rally was supported by Vishnu Hindu Parishad and justified it on the name of awareness program against the love jihad. In case of Aasifa, it was surprising that senior leader of BJP and Congress joined the hands in favour of rapists and made hatred speeches against the Muslims especially the Gujjar’s (Bakarwals) and Rohiyga Muslims, who are residing in some parts of Jammu area.  Both the accused confessed their crime and the purpose of this act was to terrify the Muslim community (Gujjar’s) in the region.

Revising the Case

After three months, the voice of Aasifa spread like fire in the social media after the Bar association of Jammu region stopped to file a charge sheet against the accused. It was inhuman and shameful act by the lawyers of Kathua and then bar association of Jammu gave a call of Jammu Bandh on April 11 demanding the transfer the case from crime branch. The call of Jammu bandh was given by the president of Bar Association of Jammu B S Salathie and was also supported by the political leaders of the Jammu region to defend the accused and to divide the people of the name of religion and vote. However, the trade unions, transport cooperation and the bar association of PirPanjal and Chenab region defied the call and condemned the act. The social media also raised the voice in favour of Aasifa. From Bollywood stars to crickets, from politicians to common people, everyone came out in favour of Aasifa and raised the question on the ruling party’s agenda of Beti Bacho…. Beti Padao. Besides that, some ruling party members like V.K Singh and Meenika Gandhi also tweeted for the justice of Aasifa. Newspapers, National TV channels and Academicians also condemned this shameful act and raised the demand to amend the protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO 2012).

Who is Aasifa Bano?

Aasifa Bano was the daughter of Muhammad Yusuf Pujwala and Naseema, who belongs to nomadic Muslim community. By profession, they are shepherds who are rearing their animals in the region of Himalayan Mountains. The family is residing 72 Km away from the Jammu region. According to the family member, on 10th January Aasifa went to forests routinely to bring home the horses. However, that day only horses returned but not Aasifa. After a long time, the family members feel curious about her return. Along with some neighbours, the father of the victim went in search of her. They went deep into the forest for her search but could not find her. On 12th January, the family filed a complaint in the police station and according to his father, the police did not hear and alleged that she must have eloped with a boy. As soon as the news of Aasifa’s disappearance spread, the Gujjar community staged a protest and blocked the national highway and forced the police officers to search her. The police used Laathi charge against the protesters.  Five days later, her body were found in tortured stage. According to her mother, her legs were broken, her nails had turned black and there were blue and red marks on her arms and fingers.

As per the investigation, Aasifa was confined to a local temple for several days and were given sedatives. She was gang raped for several days, tortured and then finally strangled to death. She has been hit with a stone on the head. Later, it was found that Sanji Ram, a 60 years old retired government officer planned the crime along with police officers like Surendra Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Deepak Khajuria. Besides that Sanji Ram’s Son Vishal, his nephew and his friend Parvesh Kumar are also found guilty in the case. As per the investigation, the accused men wanted to terrorise the nomadic community who are using public and forest land for grazing their animals. Most the people of the community alleged that it was all done for the purpose of land. According to the lawyer of the accused Ankur Sharma, The nomads were trying to alter the demography of Jammu region, where Hindus are in majority. He alleged that such nomads are encroaching our forests and water resources. The most disturbing act was Hindu Right wing Activists did not let her bury in the same region and the family members had to walk several miles to bury her in another village.

The senior journalist Harpeet Singh Seethi, who is residing in Kathua gave the details of the case. According to him, it was shuffle between Gujjar’s and the Sanji Ram, which happened few months earlier. The Gujjar’s together resisted theHindu Brahmins, who yelled them to flee from the area and in this shuffle some of the Hindu’s were beaten by the Gujjar’s (Bakerwals).  However, Sanji Ram wanted retaliation for this act and he conspired with his nephew Deepak Khajuria, who is working in the police department to avenge the Gujjar’s. A plan was settled to terrorize the Gujjar’s who were residing in the Hiranagar Constituency and were using Government land for grazing their horses and buffalo’s.

It is notable, that soon after Aasifa went disappeared, the family members went to lodge an FIR, which was not reported. However after protest and blocking the road a special investigation committee was setup by SSP Kathua Sulmain Chowdhary to handle the case. The members of the investigation committee were Anand Dutta, who took bribe of 5 lakh from Sanji Ram to divert the case, head constable Tilak Raj, the accused Deepak Khajuria and SPO Surendra Verma. All these members washed out the evidences and tried to dissuade the case. However National Conference and Congress Members also raised this issue in the state assembly and later on CM Mehbooba Mufti handed the case to Crime Branch. Soon after the arrest of Deepak Khajuria, section 144 was imposed in the district to avoid any protest. Instead of that an organization was formed with the help of RSS and other conservatives Hindu organizations under the banner of Hindu Ekta Munch (HEM) under the leadership Vijay Kumar who was the member of BJP to hold a rally in support of the rapist. In this rally, two BJP Minsters Chowdhary Lal Singh (minister of Forest) and Chander Prakash Ganga (Minister of Industries and Commerce) along with BJP Legislators Rajeev Jasrotia and Kuldip Raj made speeches and Chowdhary Lal Singh challenged the section 144 and said in Jungle Raj, these laws do not work. Other member Chander Prakash Ganga said what is the matter of this rape, it happens all over the country. We support the accused, who is a Hindu. After that rally, another Bike rally holding national flag in their hands came out is support of the accused. The most shameful act is that women of Hindu Ekta Munch also went for hunger strike in favour of the rapist. In all such discourse, the J&K police were mere spectators watching saliently. The case got the attention, when crime branched filed the charge sheet against the criminals and other supporters, which was resisted by some lawyers of Kathua. Along with HEM, the Assistant manager of Kotak Mahindra Bank and son of senior RSS leader Vishnu Nandakumar also came in support the accused. Replying to a Facebook post Vishnu Nandakumar said: it is good that she was killed now. Otherwise she would have come as a bomb against India. Vishnu is also a close relative of Kerala’s BJP General Secretary A N Radhakrishnan. However, he has been terminated from his service for the cruel comment. It is late, but a voice raised all over the country in favour of Aasifa and various candle marches, protests occurred in different states, universities, and colleges as well as in schools. It is notable that PM Narender Nath Modi also breaked his salience and stated that crimes had no place in a civilised society, promising that the culprits would not be spared and complete justice will be provided to the victim. Reacting to the statement, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said that “we are thankful to PM and we wish that he would convert his words into deeds”. Besides that, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Minister of foreign affairs Sushma Swaraj and minister of women and child development Meenika Gandhi breaked their salience and assured that justice would be prevailed to the Aasifa. Besides that Gujjar and Sikh organizations also took out separate marches seeking death penalty to those who accused of the rape and the murder of Aasifa. In a recent statement, both the BJP ministers were forced to resign from their posts and local political party of National Conference of Jammu and Kashmir also expelled Hiranagar block president Shanti Swaroop from the party on the evidence that he took part in Hindu Ekta Munch. Talking to the Indian Express, Shanti Swaroop stated that I do not mind for this move, because I am Hindu First and it is my responsibility to fight for injustice done to Hindus. However, the rape and murder of Aasifa shakes the whole country and raised a question to humanity. Even after one year, the agony and the fear of the family remains constant. The need of hour is to amend the rape laws and the culprits would be given harsh punishment, so that every girl of this country get justice.

Inamul Haq PhD Candidate, Centre for Gandhian Thought and Peace Studies, School of Social Sciences, Central University of Gujarat

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