The Bakerwal nomad girl from Jammu and Kashmir—whose rape and murder took about three months to trigger a countrywide outrage—hadn’t even lost her baby teeth as yet, lament her parents.
The family in mourning—which like thousands of other pastoral nomads who come to Kathua every winter and leave for Kargil every summer—had to set out on seasonal migration next month. But the growing lawyers-led protests in Jammu in support of the accused persons arrested in the case, forced them to leave Rasana village along with their livestock late on Tuesday evening.
“What has happened to my daughter, I just pray no other child ever goes through such trauma,” Naseema Bibi, foster mother of the murdered girl, tells reporters, near a cluster of tarpaulin tents set up a few yards from the Jammu-Srinagar national highway in Udhampur district.
The relatives say the aggrieved parents are adamant to reach their summer abode as soon as possible: “They are restless to see those streams and sprawling green meadows where their daughter would play with her ponies and sheep like a princess.” Everyone in the small caravan fondly recalls the little girl—who was a “chirpy birdie” for all of them and “centre of the world” for her foster parents.
“When we see her pictures, slippers and clothes, we miss her daily conversations all the more,” Naseema says, as her husband Mohammad Yousaf Pujwala nods his head in agreement. Pujwala, pointing towards his wife, adds: “She adopted her from my brother and sister-in-law after both our daughters were killed in a road accident a few years ago.”
“Our daughter was yet to shed her milk teeth,” says Pujwala, betraying no emotions. Narrating heart-numbing accounts, he said: “My daughter was brutally tortured...electrocuted, her wrists had burn marks, her ribs and left arm was broken, one of her leg had multiple fractures....her two front teeth were also missing...i don’t know how many times she was raped before they strangulated her and stoned her to death...And all the while they starved her...”
On January 10, as a matter of routine, the little girl in dressed in floral salwar-kameez, took her family’s ponies to the pond in the afternoon. The ponies returned home late in the evening, but the girl didn’t. She was beckoned by a local man in a jungle and taken into captivity, according to police probe. Her battered body was recovered on January 17. The grisly details of the crime as revealed by the police charge sheet—most of which still remain unknown to the parents—have seen cries for justice growing louder across the country. It has led to resignation of two BJP ministers in the state government. The ministers who resignedhad participated in a rally held by Hindu Ekta Manch in support of the arrested accused persons.
On January 10, as a matter of routine, the little girl in dressed in floral salwar-kameez, took her family’s ponies to the pond in the afternoon. The ponies returned home late in the evening, but the girl didn’t. She was beckoned by a local man in a jungle and taken into captivity, according to police probe. Her battered body was recovered on January 17
“We approached police next morning but police didn’t file our complaint. On January 12, when we again reached the police station, a complaint was filed and two police men visited our village. Soon after talking to few persons, they left. They were of the belief that someone from our community has killed her and hidden the body. The police again visited our village on January 17, only after the body was spotted by a Gaddi (Hindu pastoral nomad) near his house in our village,” Pujwala recalls, adding that meanwhile he even visited fortune-tellers to know about her whereabouts—but to no avail.
“Accompanied by over 40-50 persons from our community, I and my family members combed the entire area while searching for her. We had walked past the spot from where her body was recovered, at least 8 times,” he says, adding that he also passed by the village temple—where she was held captive—many a times almost daily but never suspected her to be held inside.
Though he swears that he had no animosity with anyone, he was not allowed to give his daughter a burial in the area. Consequently, he had to walk seven-eight miles to lay her to rest.
“We are satisfied with the police investigation. All we want is exemplary punishment for the culprits. They should be hanged for this crime,” says Naseema, wiping tears with her hands.
“Such an incident has never occurred to any nomadic family. Whenever I think of the village (Rasana), I feel agitated. Did she steal anything from anyone? Did she demand bread from them? People even care for small birds...she was just a human child. How could they do it to her? I don’t want to see that village ever again,” she says and adds after a long pause: “But her grave is there in that village.”
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has asked the Chief Justice of the State High Court to set up a special fast track court and complete the trial within 90 days. The state government has decided to enact a new law that makes death penalty mandatory for those who rape minors.
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