This day, last year, a drugged and deformed dead body of an 8-year-old nomad Muslim girl was found in the jungles of Kathua which shocked everyone. Her plight sparked off campaigns exposing fautlines in the region like never before. A year later, however, the family members of the girl are still awaiting justice.
Road to Rasana is bereft of the usual nomadic life and liveliness. This deep-seated jungle village in the Kathua district is grappling with a haunting silence, a year after triggering campaigns, counter-campaigns and communal tempers rife with Islamophobia.
For a change, a makeshift tent housing security guards has come up as the ‘wall of protection’, for the girl’s family.
Cops pass visitors through an intense check, carefully noting their names and addresses in a register, before letting them meet the girl’s roving family — currently making a traditional halt in this part of Jammu.
A deafening silence has come to replace the chirpy ambiance of the girl’s home. Till last year, as she would roam and play around, the forest would reverberate with her laughter and merry-making.
Now as she’s resting, dead and cold, in her non-decrepit grave, some distance from her village, her father sits hunched inside the home, wearing a thoughtful face.
“Returning back this time has been very difficult,” he says, flashing uneasy expressions on his suntanned face. “People showed a mixed reaction to our arrival; some have completely boycotted us and even stopped doing transactions with us.”
Even as the girl’s father says that he “trusts the law”, he asserts that too much time has already been wasted. His entire family is now awaiting justice after completing all legal formalities.
But while he is back to Rasana, along with his woeful wife, his two sons have decided to abandon the place “for good”.
One of them now works in Kashmir, and the other lives in Samba.
“My sons don’t want to live here,” the battered father continues, as the gawking guards outside send out siege signals. “Living here makes them relive the trauma and it’s impacting them mentally.”
Their kid-sister, the 8-year-old Muslim Bakkerwal child was last year raped and murdered in Kathua district of Jammu, in one of the most brutal incidents of rape and murder witnessed in the state.
According to J&K Police’s Crime Branch investigation report, the child’s abduction, gang-rape and murder was part of a plot to drive out members of her community from Rasana.
In captivity inside a temple, the girl was drugged and raped, the CB report said: “The victim was an innocent budding flower, who being a small kid became a soft target.”
The barbaric felony was the brainchild of the local revenue (retd.) officer, Sanji Ram.
Before facing the law, Ram was instrumental in organising a pro-rapist rally at Kathua in which participated the two (then) sitting ministers in the perished PDP-BJP alliance, Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga.
After being shamed and sacked for his outrageous participation, Lal Singh—the controversial forest minister who had previously raked the 1947 Muslim Genocide at Jammu, to terrorise a Gujjar delegation from Udhampur—began rallying for a CBI probe in the case.
It was in this backdrop that even the Kathua Bar Association protested against the filing of CB Challan in the local court. Later, the case was shifted to Pathankot, where it’s trial is currently going on.
At Rasana, the minor girl’s mother, now fears to stay alone at home.
After every brief session, she starts talking about her child. She has kept her daughter’s clothes and a doll as part of her souvenir now.
“I miss her every time when I go out to fetch water, herd the cattle or do my chores,” she says, in a wailing voice. “Her absence is heart-wrenching, but I’m hopeful that justice will be delivered which might bring a bit of relief to us.”
Terming her daughter as the fearless child, the mother says she was born and brought up in “nature’s lap away from dirty politics” which has trailed her case.
“My daughter’s day would start by taking her herd out for grazing, and running after the horses,” the mother recalls. “She was an exceptional child gifted with exceptional strength. My daughter would race with the horses.”
Perhaps, mindful of the same “strength”, her tormentors had repeatedly drugged her, before raping and ultimately crushing her to death with stones.
“She used to talk endlessly and would follow me everywhere,” she says, breaking a small stick in her hand with a sense of pain.
The mother’s gesture of rubbing hands and fighting tears conveys that she’s still fighting a traumatic battle within herself, to accept the truth that her daughter isn’t following her to places anymore.
At a small distance from her home, the girl’s cousin talks about his reluctance to visit the family now. “I’ve stopped visiting them because every time I visit, the memory of my cousin traumatizes me,” he says.
“It makes me revisit the time when I along with others was searching for her, in the forests, before stumbling upon her tiny, lifeless body.”
Ever since that tragedy unfolded at Rasana, the girl’s family has been facing glaring indifference.
Theirs is the “only household in the area that has not been electrified so far,” the close relative says. The family feels that they’ve been “excluded as outcast” because of the incident.
This disparity exists, even as the JK government claims that they’ve electrified 100% households in the state, under Saubhagya, a scheme by the Government of India.
Unable to make sense of this disparity, the mother is helplessly looking at her daughter’s clothes inside the room.
As her husband tries to put them back in a bag, she holds on a sweater and says: “She was wearing this on that day [when she was abducted]. But later when I found it under her pillow, I realised that she had left it for me, as a piece of her lasting memory.”
The loss is irreplaceable, so is the sense of indifference and lingering justice.
Just few miles away from the home lies the spot where the child was found dead. The family suggested “not to visit the place”, due to the fear that villagers might create trouble.
In backdrop of these faultlines at Rasana, the deafening woods now make the Muslim nomads feel “unwelcome” in the place they called home for years.
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