In what is thought to have been a brutal act of intimation against Muslims in Kashmir, Ashifa Bano, above, was kidnapped and taken to a Hindu temple near Jammu city where she was allegedly gang-raped and and later murdered by a gang including four police officers.
The victim, according to the BBC, belonged to a community of Muslim nomadic shepherds called Gujjars who crisscross the Himalayas with their goats and buffaloes. She was found dead about a week after her disappearance in January.
Police have arrested eight men, including a retired government official, four police officers and a juvenile in connection with Asifa’s death.
According to the investigators, Asifa was confined in the temple for several days and given sedatives that kept her unconscious. The charge sheet alleges that she was:
Raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered.
She was strangled to death and then hit on the head twice with a stone.
It is believed that the accused men wished to terrorise the Gujjar community into leaving Jammu. The shepherds use public and forest land in Jammu for grazing, which has recently brought them into conflict with some Hindu residents in the region.
Said Talib Hussain, a tribal rights activist and lawyer “it was about land”. Hussain, who led a protest in support of Asifa’s family, alleges he was arrested and threatened by local police.
The murder only began garnering national interest in India this week after the arrests sparked protests in Jammu – lawyers tried to stop police entering the court to file a charge sheet and two ministers from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attended a rally in support of the accused.
According to this report, Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the devisthan (small temple), is listed as the main conspirator behind the crime.
Ram was allegedly joined by special police officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma, friend Parvesh Kumar or Mannu, Sanji Ram’s underage nephew and Sanji Ram’s son Vishal Jangotra or “Shamma”.
According to the charge-sheet, on January 11, Sanji Ram’s nephew phoned his cousin Vishal Jangotra and asked him to return from Meerut, where he was studying, if he wanted to “satisfy his lust”.
Just before the girl was taken into a forest and killed, Deepak Khajuria, a Special Police Officer, told the accused to wait as “he wanted to rape her before she is killed”. The girl was once again gang-raped before her head was bashed in.
The charge-sheet says:
The juvenile (Sanji Ram’s nephew) hit the girl twice with a stone on her head and later dumped her body in the forest after their plan to throw the body in a canal could not materialize due to the failure to arrange a vehicle.
The Gujjars wanted to bury Asifa in a graveyard where they had purchased some land a few years ago and had already buried five people but when they arrived there they were surrounded by Hindu right-wing activists who threatened them with violence if they were to continue with the burial.
Said the girl’s father, Muhammad Yusuf , Pujwala:
We had to walk seven miles to bury her in another village.
Two of his daughters were killed in an accident some years ago. On his wife’s insistence, he adopted Ashifa, the daughter of his brother-in-law.
His wife described the girl as a “chirping bird” who ran like a “deer”. When they travelled, she looked after the herd.
That made her the darling of the community. She was the centre of our universe.
Hat tip: Gaurav Tyagi