India: DNA tests confirm 8-year-old #Asifa Bano was held captive in a Hindu temple, sedated and raped by multiple Hindu extremist men, who did so with the aim of terrorizing a Muslim community.#Asifa #AsifaBano #JusticeforAsifa pic.twitter.com/G8JYXHmJ9G— Ananya Thakur (@AnanyaT53657600) April 11, 2018
Religious tensions in India are on the rise after the rape and killing of an eight-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s northern area.
In January, Asifa Bano was looking after her horses in a meadow when a man asked her to follow into the forest; those footsteps were the last taken by the little girl.
According to the police, for three days, she was repeatedly raped by at least three men after they slipped her sleeping pills. The gory act was committed inside a local temple.
Asifa’s bloodied body was found in the forest, days later.
The police have reportedly arrested eight people in connection to the case in Jammu and Kashmir, many of them have confessed. Two of these men are identified as policemen who have reportedly taken money to cover up the crime. Upon investigation, the accused told the reason for the heinous crime was to drive away Asifa’s community from their land.
The innocent loss of life that should cause nothing but outrage, has somehow become a religious controversy in India.
Hindu Nationalists have swarmed out in protest in favor of the accused men. All the men arrested are Hindu, Asifa was not.
The Hindu activists say since some of the investigators on the case are Muslim, they cannot be trusted. They posed as a physical barricade, stopping the policemen entering a courthouse to file charges against the men.
Similar protests were seen all over Kathua, a small town in northern India where Asifa was murdered. Not only men but women also participated, calling for a hunger strike of the men were charged in the crime.
“They are against our religion,’’ said Bimla Devi, one of the protesters. She even threatened to burn herself if the alleged killers were not released.
The police are sure the accused men are indeed responsible for the horrific crime, with evidences like DNA samples connecting them to the crime. They also have the testimonies of 130 witnesses that “corroborate with the facts.”
The Hindu activists are rallying to get the case transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, sighting it a more neutral organization for the case trial than the state police despite the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) being under control of the central government which is essentially controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
The fact that the crime was committed in a temple makes it even more controversial.
Sanji Ram, the guardian of the temple, allegedly planned the crime against Asifa’s community, the Bakarwals. According to the police, he planned to get Asifa kidnapped by his nephew and some friends. The police also said the only reason the eight-year-old was chosen was because she was an easy target.
For generations, Bakarwal nomads have used Hindu farmer’s pastures to graze their animas but in recent years Hindu activists have started a violent campaign of terror against the nomads under the supervision of Ram.
“His poison has been spreading. When I was young, I remember the fear Sanji Ram’s name invoked in Muslim women. If they wanted to scare each other, they would take Sanji Ram’s name, since he was known to misbehave with Bakarwal women,” said Talib Hussain, a Bakarwal leader.
When Asifa’s parents, fearing the worst, reported their daughter missing to the police, Ram was asked about Asifa’s whereabouts, he replied he had not seen her. His temple was locked at the time and Asifa was being starved inside, the police said.
The girl’s father, Mohammad Yusuf Pujwala, only wants to live in peace despite the horrific crimes committed against his daughter.
“We have land here and life here,’’ he said. “This is home for us.’’
Asifa had never been to school. She went to the meadow, her favorite place to play, to never return.
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta