In early January, 8-year-old Asifa Bano was a regular girl from the Gujjars Muslim nomadic tribe in Northern India. She lived in a small village 72 kilometres east from Jammu city, where in the afternoon of January 10th she disappeared.
Asifa had gone to bring home the horses from a nearby field, but never returned. Her father, along with a few neighbours and villagers, went out to look for her in the forest, and armed with lanterns and axes, they searched through the night to find the girl in the purple dress. With no luck, on January 12th the family filed a police complaint, in which her father Yusuf Pujwala recalls the Police were unhelpful. He even recalls that one police officer suggested that she had ran off to “elope” with a boy.
As time progressed, the tribe became more and more frustrated at the lack of law enforcement support so staged protests in condemnation of ignorance. This finally forced two police officers to be assigned to the case. Just five days later, Asifa’s body was found in the forest, she still in her purple dress, with both her legs broken and bruises running all over her body.
After finding her body, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, ordered an investigation into the causes of her murder. Investigators were able to unearth that Asifa had been held in a temple for several days, while being given large doses of sedatives to keep her unconscious. It was here that the charge sheet identifies that she was “raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered.” It is said that Sanji Ram, a retired government officer, allegedly planned the kidnapping and rape along with the help of police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Deepak Khajuria, all of whom are Hindu. Khajuria was one of the officers who had been assigned to the case when she had first disappeared.
The crime itself is an atrocity, but the case itself takes a political turn that has been prominent throughout history. Investigators allege that the perpetrators were trying to send a message to the Gujjar tribe, terrorising them to leave Jammu. Ankur Sharma, a lawyer for the accused, stated “They are encroaching our forests and water resources,” leading conclusions to be drawn that the entire incident revolved around land issues. The tribe uses surrounding grassland for grazing, which has initiated conflict with the resident Hindu majority.
This “crime against humanity” happened 3 months ago, but has been making international headlines in the last three days. This is due to the large-scale revolt of Hindu right-wing activists that are defending the perpetrators as having been “just protecting our land.” Some activists suggested the whole investigation was a method to target Hindus, as some of the officers on the investigation were Muslim and “cannot be trusted.” Two members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist elected government, were in attendance at a protest in support of the accused along with dozens of women who had organised a hunger strike in an act of defiance.
Like any controversial event, the hashtag #JusticeforAsifa became a widespread movement of rage across the country and internationally. This has not been the first Indian rape case that has reached global news, with the 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi, first condemning the lack of action for the protection of women in India. Sexual harassment, assault, and rape are ubiquitous problems of India, and action is once again pressured by the eyes of enraged international community.
Politics should never interfere with atrocities that enact such human brutality and cruelty on any innocent human being. The case of Asifa Bano is one of many that have not surfaced the international spectrum of news, but nevertheless they are there, calling for action in the protection of all human beings, faced with the inhumane crimes of sexual assault and abuse.
Photo credit: Free Press Kashmir