by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 3, Sha'ban, 1439)
The ordeal that the 8-year-old girl endured at the hands of Hindu fascists is so horrific that it sends shivers down one’s spine simply narrating it. The expression “Hindu fascists” is deliberately used because the repeated gang rape and brutal murder of the 8-year-old child was preplanned and motivated by the Hindus’ extreme hatred of Muslims.
Asifa was kidnapped in early January as she grazed her family horses in the forest near Rasana village of Kathua district in Jammu (part of Indian-colonized Kashmir). The 8-year-old did this regularly and thus, her movements were familiar to her kidnappers and rapists. On that fateful day, as one of the assailants approached her, Asifa sensed danger. She tried to run away but was caught. The assailant drugged her and then dragged her to a Hindu temple.
For the next four days, she was repeatedly gang raped. Her assailants included eight men among them a special police officer, Deepak Khajuria, a retired government official Sanji Ram, the mastermind of the horrific crime and keeper of the temple, and his juvenile nephew.
When the little girl did not return in the evening, her distraught parents went looking for her. They went past the Hindu temple several times but did not suspect that their young daughter would be held in a place of worship much less sexually abused in such a horrific manner.
After four days of rape and torture, the Hindu beasts decided it was time to kill the little girl by strangulation. They had already selected a culvert near the temple where the macabre ritual was to be performed. But before the girl was killed, the special police officer wanted to rape her one more time. Thus, Khajuria and his nephew raped the poor girl one more time before she was strangled to death.
To make sure she was dead, they also smashed her head twice with a stone. Left outside near the culvert, young Asifa’s body was soon discovered. It is not difficult to imagine what her parents must have gone through seeing her badly bruised and battered body. Asifa’s mother, Rafeeza Bano, narrated the horror when she saw her dead daughter’s body. “There were scars on her cheeks,” she recalled.
“Her lips had turned black and her eyes had bulged out. It was not only extremely scary but also heartbreaking for me to see my daughter’s battered and bruised body,” she said. The mother could not hold back tears as she spoke. “She was my youngest child. It was horrific. She was subjected to a lot of cruelty and barbarism by the perpetrators.”
When Asifa’s body was first discovered, it was assumed that this was just another case of sexual violence that is so rampant in India. Perhaps, the sex predators had now moved to Indian-colonized Kashmir as well. Although Kashmiri women and girls have been subjected to rape over the last three decades, these cases were all at the hands of the colonizing army or the even more unruly mob of Hindu zealots who fill the ranks of the Central Reserve Police Force. More than 11,000 cases of rape have been recorded in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Even this figure is believed to be low since many women and girls do not report rape because of social stigma.
Asifa’s parents had lodged a case with the police. For the next three months, the police crime branch, a special investigation agency, pieced together the evidence and discovered the barbarity of the plot.
In a 16-page charge sheet, the crime branch’s investigation revealed that this was not a case of ordinary rape and murder that are so rampant in India. Instead, Asifa’s kidnapping, gang rape, and murder were preplanned. Sanji Ram, a Hindu fanatic, harbored extreme hatred toward the Muslim nomadic community of Bakarwals. By indulging in this horrific crime, together with his accomplices, Ram wanted to drive the minority Muslim community out of the predominantly Hindu village by creating fear.
The Hindu rapists and murderers succeeded in their criminal plot. The nomadic Bakarwals including Asifa’s family have already left the village and sought shelter under the open sky in mountains some 150 km away. The family now lives in fear for their other teenage daughters, not allowing them to go alone anywhere.
There is a long history to the Hindus’ hatred of Muslims. In Jammu (the state comprises Jammu and Kashmir), the Muslim majority was reduced to a minority through such acts of violence and intimidation. Right at the time of partition in 1947, Hindu fanatics slaughtered nearly 370,000 Muslims in Jammu. Hundreds of thousands of others fled in fear toward Pakistan. This is what led to war between the two newly emerged states of India and Pakistan.
Today, Jammu has become a predominantly Hindu state while Kashmir maintains its Muslim majority, although that too is under threat due to the military occupation and a sinister plot to change its demography by the illegal state-sponsored immigration of Hindus into the state.
In Jammu, however, hatred toward Muslims is rampant. The small nomadic community — the Bakarwals — that is constantly on the move to graze its herds has been driven out through fear and terror. The Hindu fascists would not even allow Asifa’s body to be buried in Rasana village.
While the police have completed their investigation, what are the chances of the perpetrators being punished? Asifa’s family has already received death threats from other Hindus in Jammu. Her father Muhammad Akhtar confirmed, “The Hindus came to us and said if our men are given the death sentence, we will kill you one by one.”
Last month, a group of Hindu lawyers attempted to block police investigators from entering a court premise in Kathau to file charges against the accused. On April 16, the eight accused pleaded “not guilty” to the charges.
The Hindu fanatics, with support from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Narendra Modi, have became so brazen that they have even threatened Deepika Rajawat, the lawyer representing the girl’s family in the case. She has been threatened with rape and death. Rajawat asked how she could practice law in such circumstances. “It is shocking that the lawyers in Kathua so blatantly tried to obstruct justice in this case,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said in her report last month. “For the local lawyers and other BJP supporters, the Hindu suspects and the Muslim victim were grounds for blocking prosecution of the case,” Ganguly said.
Far from standing with the victim of this horrific crime, two ministers in the BJP government attended rallies in support of the accused. When public outrage across India intensified in the aftermath of the details of little Asifa’s ordeal, the two ministers, Lal Singh and Chandra Prakash Ganga, were forced to resign.
It is, however, difficult to envisage how Asifa’s family can get justice when fascism reigns supreme in India and Muslims lives and honor are considered dispensable.