Saturday, April 14, 2018

The last five days of Asifa // Kathua, Unnao: Shame on us

MOHAMMED YOUSUF DOES not remember exactly when he decided to settle in Rasana village in Jammu region’s Kathua district. But he says it must have been about 10-12 winters ago. Yousuf is a Bakerwal, a nomadic tribe of Jammu & Kashmir. His community spends summers at high altitude and winters in the plains, where they move along with their livestock. After his two children died in an accident, Yousuf decided to adopt his sister’s newborn child in 2010. She was named Asifa. In the last few years, the Bakerwals in Jammu province have been facing opposition from local Dogra Hindus. Many Hindus in Jammu fear that the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley has plans to change the demography of Hindu-majority Jammu by resettling Muslims here from elsewhere. 
The settling of a few hundred Rohingya Muslim families in Jammu had fuelled these concerns. In towns and villages along the international border with Pakistan in particular, tension between some sections of Hindus and Bakerwals has been running high. It is this suspicion and hatred that consumed the life of eight-year-old Asifa. The details in the chargesheet filed by the J&K Police’s Crime Branch in a local court on April 9th and 10th against eight accused reveals horrifying details of her last five days after she was abducted on January 10th this year.

“We have solved the case, but what makes me really sad is that police officers were involved in this,” says Ahfadul Mujtaba, Inspector-General, Crime Branch. Asifa’s body was found in a forest next to Rasana on January 17th, seven days after she went missing while looking for her ponies that had ventured far while grazing. Two days later, the local police arrested a juvenile boy who they said had confessed that it was he who had abducted the girl and later killed her with the blow of a stone to her head. But as Bakerwals and others mounted pressure on the government to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), it was turned over to the Crime Branch on January 22th. After sustained interrogation of the juvenile boy and an investigation involving conventional and modern methods, the police say they identified the main two accused in the case—a local 60-year-old villager, Sanji Ram, and a Special Police officer, Deepak Khajuria. The story that has emerged after the Crime Branch investigation, now a part of the chargesheet, is as follows:.. read more:

NB: The note below was sent to me by Rahul, the author of the above report:
Dear Friends: Please share this with others. Because the situation in Jammu is quite grim, and people must not fall victim to untruth around the Asifa case.  Some crucial points about #Asifa case:

1. The ones who cast all aspersions on CBI’s chargesheet in the 2009 Shopian (rape) case have no qualms in using Crime Branch’s chargesheet in Kathua to write front-page stories.
2. Jammu is overwhelmingly secular, except for a few. It has offered safe space to Ladakhis, Kashmiri Pandits, Kashmiri Muslims, among others. There is hardly anyone in Jammu who does not share the nation’s anger on Asifa. We must remember this.
3. People in Jammu have some genuine concerns. Whether Rohingyas should be allowed entry into India is a government decision, but it has been a terrible idea to settle them in an already polarised state like Jammu and Kashmir, which already has a history of insurgency.
4. While raising this issue, a few politically motivated people in Jammu tried to give it a communal colour by forming “Hindu” Ekta Manch and by raising the national flag and shouting religious slogans. The conflating of their concerns with Asifa’s case is a mistake which the wise people in Jammu should have avoided.
5. On top of it, a few in Jammu and elsewhere began to concoct all kinds of lies on Asifa. The said it was a property dispute. Some blamed Rohingyas whereas there is no Rohingya presence in Kathua. This made matters worse and created further confusion.
6. It is also important to understand that a chargesheet is just that - a chargesheet. If the court thinks there is ambiguity in the charges, the case will fall apart and the accused will be let off. It won’t matter whether an Urfan Wani has prepared it or Ramesh Jala has made it or Shwetambra has made it. Till that happens, let us stop forming kangaroo courts on social media. Whatever had to be reported on the basis of chargesheet has been done.
7. Despite tension in Jammu, nobody, I repeat nobody, has been physically intimidated. Threats of violence are exaggerated.
8. This is a case of rape and brutal murder of a child. Please do not treat this as a career enhancer. You got your 2 minutes on camera. Now move on.
9. A few Kashmiri Pandit journalists were involved in reporting this case. They are all professional journalists. They treat every case as important - whether it is in Kathua or Kandhamal. Their allegiance is to their profession, not to a state or a particular people.
10. A few Kashmiris, Muslims and Pandits, came together in Srinagar to express their concern over Asifa. In the last few months, some of them have come together in informal forums, expressing friendship and brotherhood. That is all required and very touching indeed. But all these efforts will mean nothing till there is a mass recognition in Kashmir over what was done to Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. The denial of thirty years has to go.

Kathua, Unnao: Shame on us
Our conduct as a society in the rape and murder case of an eight-year-old in Kathua has been so despicable that it can be said, without exaggeration, that India’s moral compass has been completely obliterated, carpet-bombed out of existence by the very custodians of law, morality and virtue who give daily sermons on national pride. This is by no means the first time a child in India has been subjected to the kind of heinous crime that makes you wonder about the dark sickness in our society that we so easily cloak. That the process is moving on, FIRs filed and so forth, will once again give us the sense of normality and closure that has in the past allowed us to move past every such crime. 

The sense of revulsion that is so overpowering at this moment will quickly dissipate till the next atrocity. Kathua will become another occasion for organising a momentary outrage. But even the currency of outrage is so broken. Like so much expression of outrage in India, it will be more about satiating our conscience than about staring the enormity of evil in the face. It is an evil that, whether we like it or not, we have authorised and let pass.

How does one even begin to get a grip on this story? The crime itself is unimaginably horrific: The brutalisation and death of a child. But the purposeful nihilism in the crime is equally chilling. By all current reports, it seems premeditated. If current reports are correct, the crime seems purposeful in that the brutalisation was also meant to frighten whole communities, in this case it seems the Bakharwals. Whatever the exact facts of the case may turn out to be, the context of the crime, and the reactions of some Hindu groups suggest everyone understands the message this crime was meant to send. The sheer physical torture unleashed on the eight-year-old has also been paralleled by the extraordinary effort to deny her humanity. Think of what the reactions to this crime say about us.

Groups protesting the J&K police investigating the crime have assorted names like Hindu Ekta Manch and Bharat Bachao Rathyatra. It is as if the last vestiges of any respectability associated with the use of terms like “Hindu” or “Bharat” have been torn off. This is what these ideas have been reduced to: The instrumental use of brutal violence against children to terrorise communities, and to turn perpetrators into victims.. read more: