On 29th May, the State Investigation Agency (SIA) of Jammu and Kashmir police confiscated approximately…
The Story of Asifa Bano: 5th anniversary of the Hindutva brutality that shook the region
On 17th January, in the year 2018, Muhammad Yusuf was at his home in Kathua, sitting perturbed and restless, when one of his neighbors came running towards him. He broke the news that would traumatize any uncle in the world: they had found the dead body of his eight-year-old niece, Asifa Bano, laying in bushes in the forest, a few hundred meters away. Muhammad Yusuf was not just her uncle, he had raised Asifa and adopted her when she was a toddler.
Asifa had gone missing on 10th January. On that afternoon, according to her mother, Asifa had gone out to the forest to bring home the horses. The horses did eventually return home but Asifa did not. According to a report by the BBC, two days later, on 12 January, the family filed a police complaint. But, according to her father, the police were not helpful. One of the police officers, in a mocking tone, told Asifa’s father that the 8-year-old must have “eloped” with a boy.
Five days later, on 17th January, the body of Asifa was finally found, broken, bruised, and covered in blood. Asifa’s mother, Rafeeza, who had rushed to the forest to see her daughter, states that “She (Asifa) had been tortured. Her legs were broken…Her nails had turned black and there were blue and red marks on her arm and fingers.”
On 23rd January, the then Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, initiated an investigation into the case, led by the crime branch unit of the state police. According to the investigation, it was revealed that the little Asifa had been confined in a local temple for all the days when she was missing and forcibly given sedatives that kept her in a state of unconsciousness. The investigation further revealed that Asifa was “raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered”. She was strangled to death and then her head was hit multiple times with a stone. The investigation also led to the disclosure that Hindu extremist Sanji Ram, a 60-year-old retired government officer, orchestrated the crime with the assistance of police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Deepak Khajuria. Sanji Ram’s son, Vishal, his nephew, and his friend, Parvesh Kumar, also participated in the rape and murder.
In a report by AlJazeera, it was revealed that before little Asifa was strangled and her head hit twice with a stone “to make sure” she was dead, Deepak, a special police officer, expressed a sinister and vile demand. He sought to rape the eight-year-old before she was finally murdered. “As such”, the police investigation states, “once again the little girl was gang-raped” by Deepak and then by the nephew of Sanji Ram.
While many Hindu nationalists initially sought to present the case as just another case of “sexual violence”, the investigation revealed that the rape and murder were systematic and it was the religious bigotry harboured by Sanji Ram and his partners in crime, against the Muslim nomadic community of Bakarwals, that led to the whole event. They wanted to inflict collective humiliation and pain upon the entire community, and for this, they made little Asifa his target. According to the police investigation, the goal was to use fear and dread to drive out the Muslim community, to expel them from the village using such ghastly tactics. A police officer, Anand Dutta, who was initially in charge of the investigation, took more than $6,000 as a bribe in order to put a lid on the crime, according to the later investigation. Dutta even washed the clothes that Asifa was wearing at the time of the incident in order to erase any marks of blood or semen.
Asifa’s mother, Rafeeza, while speaking to AlJazeera stated that she now fears for her two remaining daughters, one of them aged 13. “They did this with an eight-year-old girl, imagine what they can do with a 13-year-old,” she said. Asifa’s father, Akhtar, could not forget the face of his daughter. “Her face was full of scratches and bites…I never knew they would do this to a child, her milk teeth were yet to fall out,” he stated. Akhtar said that the Hindu nationalists threatened him and his family in the aftermath of the incident. “They said if our men are given the death sentence, we will kill you one by one. After the girl’s body was found, Hindu people came to us and threatened us,” he said.
The state of Hindu fanaticism in India can be gauged by the fact that the men who were involved in the rape and murder of Asifa found a huge number of extremist lawyers and ministers from India’s governing BJP marching in their support, demanding that they be set free. Several officials of India’s governing Hindu nationalist BJP also hurried to their defense, carrying out marches. On the other hand, lawyers of Jammu’s Bar Association went on to block the entrance to a local court to stop the police from submitting charges against the perpetrators of the crime. The lawyer pleading Asifa’s case received many death and rape threats.
In June, 2019, three of the perpetrators were sentenced to imprisonment for life for the rape, torture and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl. Three police officers were also found guilty of destroying evidence and sentenced to five years in prison. One of the accused was acquitted and one, due to juvenile status, was tried separately.
The truth remains, however, that the perpetrators did succeed in their sinister goal. Many Muslim nomadic families did leave the village after the incident, fearing for the safety and security of their daughters. Such people include Yusuf, the uncle of Asifa, who had to leave the village due to the relentless threats and intimidation at the hands of the Hindu extremists. The Hindu extremists went to so far as to not even allow Asifa to be buried in her village.
If affairs are left to such Hindu extremists, perhaps the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.