“What did they gain by killing a kid?” asks 40-year-old Naseema Bibi, the foster mother of Asifa, as her voice breaks down due to poor cellular connectivity. Naseema, who lost both her daughters in an accident a few years ago, had adopted Asifa from her sister-in-law when Asifa was just an infant.
Though I couldn’t get a chance to talk to Naseema again and our conversation was limited, her question reverberated in my mind all night. I wonder if it ever struck those supporting the accused too?
The gruesome rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa shook the state of Jammu and Kashmir in January 2018. The gory details of the crime came out in public after the crime branch filed a chargesheet against the accused that included a police official, a former revenue official, a juvenile and a few other men.
As per the chargesheet, Asifa was kidnapped and kept in a temple premise where she was starved, drugged, tortured, gang-raped, and strangulated. And no, that’s not all. She was shown mercy and left alive so that the accused Deepak Khajuria, a police official, could allegedly rape her “one last time”. Her head was then smashed with a stone to make sure she died.
Ironically, the same Deepak Khajuria was also a part of the search team that found Asifa’s body. The police initially tried to destroy the evidence, but as the protests sparked in the town, the case was handed over to the crime branch, who claimed that the motive behind this heinous crime was to scare the nomadic Bakerwal community away from their home.
What’s also shocking and disgusting is the fact that there have been repeated attempts to cover up the horrible incident using a communal blanket. People in Jammu have been asked to stand for the accused for the sake of their community and religion! Unbelievably, the honour of the accused has been linked with the honour of the community and nation.
And no, that’s not all. Even the Jammu Bar Association is defending the accused and has threatened Asifa’s lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat. The ones who are supposed to guard the law even tried preventing the police from filing the chargesheet on Monday.
The right-wing group, Hindu Ekta Manch took out a rally, attended by BJP ministers Chandra Prakash Gupta and Lal Singh, waving tirangas to support the accused.
“What if a girl has died? Many girls have died here,” BJP minister Lal Singh reportedly said in the rally.
This comes from a party which is the flag-bearer of the social campaign, Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao. This also comes from a party whose leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came out in December 2012, in support of Jyoti Singh aka Nirbhaya and called her Bharat ki Beti. Is Asifa not Bharat ki Beti for him? Or isn’t the survivor, who lost her father for demanding justice in Unnao, India’s daughter, either?
Or was it too convenient for our PM to speak against the Congress then, but totally inconvenient to speak against his own ministers now? Or does our PM also look at the victims just as his ministers do? Through the prism of religion?
Why is it so difficult for our PM and even us to register that the likes of the Hindu Ekta Manch don’t want us to look at Asifa as a victim of a heinous crime who needs our anger? They don’t want us to look at her as India’s daughter but as a Muslim girl who ‘got what she deserved’. They demanded Hindu unity to stand for the “honour of the accused”. They want us to divide Asifa and the other victims communally. They want us to support the rapists because they have raped “one of them”. They want to divide us on the binary of “us and them”. And all this in the name of Ram!
If Ram was a witness to this inhumanity, he would hang his head in shame.
And if they succeed in dividing us today, we’ll not just be failing Asifa but also all our daughters. Lest we have already decided that Asifa was not, and will never be, India’s daughter.