Kashmir lately woke up to a shuddering rape case of a minor girl in Magam. While the incident triggered collective village vigilance in wake of bad press, it’s trauma that is now engaging the victim’s family in the loop of justice.
Some 28 kilometers from Srinagar, on the banks of Ferozpora Nallah, Hardu-Aboora village in Baramulla district’s Magam is sullen at the moment. Fresh from getting bad press over a minor’s rape by a 34-year-old man on Jan 22, 2018, the larger mood inside this wide awake village—famous for its handicrafts and kulchas—has turned hostile.
A group of villagers were busy deliberating among themselves inside the police station Magam, where the rape case has been registered. The dour villagers don’t want to talk about it with strangers, they fear might be scribes.
“Don’t expect any security from us, if you want to visit the village,” warns the Munshi of police station Magam, looking at the visitors through the corners of his eyes. “Mind you, the villagers have already beaten up three journalists. Even, a magistrate was forced to retreat when he was pelted with stones.”
Just outside the police station, a journalist whose camera was broken by some villagers explains the prevalent situation around.
“The villagers are agitated ever since the rape case of a minor girl Farah [not her real name] made it to newspapers, down in Srinagar,” he says. “They aren’t letting strangers inside the village as they believe their village is being tarnished by journalists.”
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Perhaps Hardu-Aboora’s alarming vigilance makes complete sense given how places face the heat after such outrageous episodes.
When a sex racket rocked Kashmir in 2006, some newsmen’s ambitious reporting did give a bad name to an entire locality where the brothel was being visited by who’s who of the power structure. While the scandal gradually forced many locals to migrate, those who stayed put would simply get annoyed over the mention of a madam—the kingpin—who had come from a faraway area to run her sleaze shop in that Srinagar neighbourhood.
Today the 75% literate population of Hardu-Aboora—the center for many villages and an abode of Sufi Saints’ shrines—harbours similar fears. But while one swallow doesn’t make a summer, a people’s fence has come up around the victim akin to an iron curtain.
On dusty village lanes, as tension remains palpable, the strangers face a volley of queries: Why are you here? Are you from the media? Whom do you want to see?
“If you’re trying to go to the village,” an aquiline-nosed villager tells me, “please don’t! We’re asking you nicely. It’s not safe for you.”
Amid these daunting queries, a local ATM guard manages the situation by assuring the villagers, “Don’t worry. No harm can be done.”
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The guard drops us at the residence of Farah’s female teacher. She turns out to be helpful and manages our meeting with her minor student.
Inside her home hushed in the befallen tragedy’s gloom, eight-year-old Farah sits next to her younger sister, adorning a red pheran and a matching scarf. Her forced smile and shy looks fail to disguise the trauma in her eyes. She is too young to talk about her torment and dodges most of the queries by playing with her tiny fingers, covered with glue from her toys.
Sitting in this quaintly decorated room is Farah’s mother. “Her pain is getting better,” she says, taking a helpless look at her daughter, busy with her toys around. After a short pause, the mother emanates strength to fight until her daughter’s perpetrator receives desired punitive measures.
“After what he did to my daughter,” she says, putting up a firm face, “we want the man to be hanged!”
The disturbing fact that nudges one’s conscience is the connection between the perpetrators and the victims or survivors. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, seven out of ten rape cases are committed by someone known to the victim. Farah’s case is no different.
Her mother’s biggest regret is not being able to identify a “pervert living right next to us”. Farah accused her friend’s father of raping her—when she was playing with his daughter at his place. The accused Irshad Ahmad Shah has been booked under sections 342, 376 RPC at police station Magam and is presently lodged in Central Jail, Srinagar.
“This guy has a previous history of assaulting and harassing young girls,” a deputy superintendent of police posted in Magam says. “But this time around, the case against him is very strong.”
In their defense, the rapist’s family plays down the incident as an outcome of a ‘feud between two families’.
“This is their only defense,” the DSP continues. “But the real problem is that the society’s moral values are deteriorating fast and breeding these kinds of miscreants.”
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Inside Farah’s home, her teacher rues over the absence of a mechanism to provide counselling or any kind of mental support to kids facing trauma.
“Despite feeling for her,” she says, “we are too helpless to do anything.”
The incident has already shown its results. The trauma in the eight-year-old girl’s eyes has already turned her into a troubled child whose childhood has been left torn by a predator’s act. From a joyous and playful kid once, Farah has now become a very quiet child.
“Please, write what happened to my child,” pleads her mother, welling up, “so that no one else suffers her fate.”
Utsa Sarmin is a research scholar from Cambridge University, United Kingdom. She has completed her M.Phil in development studies.
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