IF one thinks that the atrocities perpetrated on Asifa by these pitiless characters would have caused outrage and revulsion in the hearts of people no matter Hindu or Muslim, they are sadly mistaken. No sooner the reports of arrests of accused were out, an uproar erupted in the Jammu area. The episode soon turned into a communal contest.
When the family received Asifa’s dead body the hapless Bakarwal community began to face the wrath of majority Hindu (Dogra) community. The family wanted to bury the body near their habitation. However, just as burial was on the way, the father was informed that they were surrounded by a Dogra band wielding batons, ready to pounce on them. The family then decided that their safety demanded to carry the body for seven miles to another graveyard in a nearby Muslim community.
Police was also not merely indifferent but downright hostile to seriously investigate the case and nab the culprits. An SHO was suspended by the state assembly to lower the rising tempers. Then an advocate, Talib Hussain, who was from the Bakarwal community, came forward to push back such refracting tactics of the police and the politicians. The anguish of Bakarwal community turned into anger and pushed them to launch a protest movement that blocked the main highway connecting Srinagar, while Talib sat on a hunger strike.
Communal lines were drawn at the national level also with BJP and its government keeping mum on these happenings. The most deafening was the silence of the prime minister who kept his quiet for weeks
This turned the tide, as the police finally moved and started investigation in earnest. Since the police personnel were deeply involved in hatching the conspiracy, they now attempted to mislead the investigation, destroy key evidence and use Sangra (a minor and nephew of the mastermind, Sanji Ram) to assume exclusive responsibility of the crime. However, as soon as investigation found holes in Sangra’s story and concluded that he was incapable to execute the plan all by himself, the case was transferred to the crime branch (duly supervised by the High Court), which found ‘clinching evidence’ linking Deepak Khajuria, one of police officers, to the crime, who was then arrested on 12 February. Ironically, Khajuria happened to be part of the police party that made initial searches for recovery of Asifa during abduction, was present when the dead body was finally found, masterminded initial resistance to inquiry and investigation, harassed the family and even locked up Talib Hussain and threatened to be book him under Public Safety Act.
On 15 February, just days after Khajuria was arrested, a previously unknown organisation, Hindu Ekta Manch (United Hindu Front) took out a protest procession where participants were chanting slogans against the arrest of Khajuria and carried the national tri-colour. The march was led by the state secretary of BJP along with two sitting ministers in the coalition government, representing BJP and the local member of legislative assembly. Some reports also indicated that Sanji Ram was also present in the march and helped organise it. One of the ministers, who was later forced to resign, Choudhry Lal Singh, claimed that the police officers were framed, that the investigation was done by Muslim police officers and that it was a conspiracy against the Hindu population to reduce them into a minority.
The protests then spread throughout the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In one such marches, Hindu women blocked a highway and demanded release of arrested accused, threatening they would burn themselves otherwise.
The most astounding and chaotic scene was witnessed when on 9 April, 2018 the Crime Branch Police approached the Court to finally file the charges against the seven accused before the chief judicial magistrate. A mob of Hindu attorneys attempted to physically block the approaching police party from entering the Court and filing the charges. The attorneys in a statement argued for a federal investigation, stating that the government had failed to “understand the sentiments of the people.” Through reinforcements, the police was able push back the rowdy mob and to complete the paperwork and charged the men, who all denied the charges.
The police also registered an FIR against the obstructing attorneys. The state police chief SP Vaid, a Hindu, assured that no such tactics would succeed and the case would proceed. Furthermore, the offending attorneys would also be dealt with under the law.
As soon as the grisly details of murder, contained in the charge sheet, were out in the national press, a tsunami of anguish and outrage broke out in India. Protests were held in all major cities with opposition parties leading from the front, including Rahul Gandhi, who led a night vigil in Delhi near India Gate. Indian women felt particular revulsion as it reminded them of the rape and murder of a 23-year old medical student in a New Delhi bus in December 2013, which shook the national conscious. Only this time, it was a minor girl of eight years, gang raped by several men with the aim of terrorising her community.
As if this was not enough, another rape case came to light the same week when a man died in police custody, after accusing a law maker from the ruling BJP party of abduction and rape of his 16 year old daughter. The police had failed to investigate the case against the MLA. Now the central bureau of investigation (CBI) has taken over the case. “Both cases have shaken the conscience of the nation, shaken the hearts and souls of people,” said Feroze Mithiborwala, an organiser of a protest in Mumbai on 12 April.
Communal lines were drawn at the national level also with BJP and its government keeping mum on these happenings. The most deafening was the silence of the prime minister who kept his quiet for weeks (despite sending numerous messages to scientists for their successes and exhorting Indians to constantly engage in yoga). Only before an audience in London the other day did he say things that condemned the murder and promised due punishment to the perpetrators. The Indian cabinet also passed a new law through an ordinance that made capital punishment as the penalty for rape of minors.
In one of the protests, held in Delhi at the Parliament Street on 15 April, Talib Hussain traveled with Deepika Singh Rajawat, the lawyer for the Asifa’s family. Speaking to media, she said that she is being consistently threatened by the head of the Jammu High Court Bar Association, BS Slathia. She said on 4th April, Slathia came to her and said, “Look we are on strike, you shouldn’t appear for any case.” She said that the case is indeed important to her and she is not the member of Kashmir Bar Association. To which, Slathia allegedly said: “If you won’t stop, I know the means to stop you. Rajawat said with this open threat, she is insecure and scared for her own life. She feels likes of this man could harm her. She said she has approached Chief Justice, asking for protection. “Chances of anything happening to me outside the court premises are thin. But inside the court premises, I am vulnerable to humiliation, ridicule and attack. Hence, I approached the Chief Justice of the Jammu High Court and requested security.”
It is bewildering to realise how deep the communal divisions run in the Indian society. Highly educated, accomplished professionals are so readily taken over by their base instincts to side with their co-religionists or align with the petty interests of their community for securing land by evicting a hapless community – even if it required abducting, gang-raping and murdering a minor girl for the sole purpose of terrorising her community. It is even more penitent to reckon that RSS-BJP, who otherwise label themselves as champions of women causes, would countenance such a sordid crime against a minor girl.
But all is not lost, as the system has worked to investigate and unearth the conspiracy even when it meant nabbing the personnel within the police department. The Court has worked too. One also hears that after the threats received by Deepika, the Supreme Court is going to hear the case to ensure that a fair investigation and trial takes place to conclude the case. The outrage expressed and solidarity exhibited by Indians with the victims shows that common man is not driven by communal feelings unless politicians drive them to insanity for their ulterior motives.