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:
Sanji Ram had decided to put together a plan to scare Bakerwals away from the area. He had been observing Asifa for a few days; she often grazed her ponies on forest land around his home. He decided to kill Asifa in order to instil fear among other members of her community. Ram shared this idea with Deepak Khajuria and the juvenile boy, his nephew. The boy had been expelled from his school three months earlier because of ‘bad behaviour’ with girls. His parents had then sent him to his uncle’s home, where he took care of the cattle.
To facilitate Asifa’s abduction, Khajuria first went to a chemist shop, taking along a prescription of his maternal uncle who has psychiatric problems. He asked for a medicine used for treating seizures and sleep disorders. The chemist did not have the specific drug, but gave him the same formulation under a different brand name, Epitril. Khajuria then sought Ram’s nephew’s help in abducting the girl, promising that in return he would help him clear his exams through cheating. The boy shared this plan with his close friend, Parvesh Kumar alias Mannu. On January 9th, the boy and Mannu went to a nearby town and purchased four doses of a local drug, Manar.
In places along the Pakistani border, the tension between some sections of Hindus and Bakerwals has been running high. It is this hatred that consumed the life of Asifa
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On the afternoon of January 10th, Ram’s nephew heard Asifa enquiring from a woman about her missing ponies. He told Asifa that he had seen her ponies and led her to the jungle, accompanied by Mannu. According to the police, by this time the girl had sensed trouble and tried to run away. But Ram’s nephew caught hold of her and pushed her to the ground. Then he forcibly fed her a dose of Manar, after which she fell unconscious. It is here that he raped her. Afterwards, Mannu tried raping her as well, but could not.
The girl was then taken to a small temple managed by Sanji Ram. The next day, SPO Khajuria and Ram’s nephew went back to check on her. The nephew, says the chargesheet, lifted her head and Khajuria slid two tablets of Epitril down her throat. In the evening the nephew went again to the temple to light a lamp and found the girl still unconscious. The same night, he called up his cousin, Sanji Ram’s son, Vishal Jangotra, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture in Meerut. The boy asked Jangotra to come immediately if he wanted to satisfy his lust.
Jangotra arrived the next morning. Two hours later, they went to the temple where Asifa was given another three tablets. All this while, she was on an empty stomach.
By this time, Sanji Ram had taken into confidence another policeman, head constable Tilak Raj. On the afternoon of January 12th, after Mohammed Yousuf filed a complaint with the police, the search for the missing girl began. Both Deepak Khajuria and Tilak Raj were a part of the search party and kept up the pretence of looking for the girl.
According to the police, Sanji Ram visited his sister the same day and confided in her that her son was involved in the kidnapping and confinement of the girl. Through her, a packet of Rs 1.5 lakh was sent to Tilak Raj. Through him, an offer for sharing a total of Rs 5 lakh was made to the investigating officer of the case, Sub Inspector Anand Dutta. He is now one of the accused.
On the morning of January 13th, Sanji Ram, his son and nephew went to temple where the uncle-nephew duo performed rituals. After Sanji Ram left, his son raped Asifa. Then she was again raped by his nephew, the juvenile. After this, the boy fed Asifa three tablets of Epitril and kept the other two under a heap of garbage. These have now been recovered by the police.
It was the day of Lohri. After the festivities in the evening, Sanji Ram told his accomplices that the time had come to kill the girl. That night, she was taken to a culvert in front of the temple by the nephew, his friend Mannu and Jangotra. Shortly afterwards, Khajuria reached the spot as well and said he wanted to rape the girl before she was killed. After doing it, Khajuria put her neck on his left thigh and tried to strangle her. He could not. Sanji Ram’s nephew then came forth and killed her by pressing his knee against her back and strangulating her with her chunni. Then, to make sure that she was dead, he hit her twice with a stone.
The body was taken back to the temple. On the morning of January 15th, the body was thrown in the forest.
But once the case got too hot to handle for the police, the accused decided to direct all guilt at the juvenile and have him confess falsely that he had conspired to kill the girl along with a local shepherd. On sustained interrogation, however, the boy broke down and narrated the whole story.
Sanji Ram, it turns out, was dead against Bakerwals settling in the area. He always urged his community not to provide any assistance to them. He was known to harangue one of his neighbours for having sold a piece of land to a Bakerwal. Head Constable Tilak Raj and Khajuria, according to the police, also had a prejudiced view of Bakerwals. They suspected them of indulging in cow slaughter and drug trafficking, says the chargesheet.
The case has assumed a political hue in Jammu with some members of BJP, Congress and other parties coming out in favour of the accused SPO, Khajuria. On April 9th, when the police approached the Kathua court to file the chargesheet, a group of lawyers tried to stop them. The police have filed an FIR against them.
“We had no pressure from anyone,” says Ramesh Jala, SSP, Crime Branch, who supervised the probe. “We were reporting the developments of the case to the High Court almost on a weekly basis.” The 15-member team of the Crime Branch, say senior police officials, has an impeccable record. Jala himself has survived several terrorist attacks during his stint in Kashmir Valley.
The fate of Mohammed Yousuf and his people in Rasana is not clear yet. After Asifa was found, locals did not even allow the family to bury her body on Yousuf’s own land. It had to be buried in a neighbouring village where Yousuf’s relatives live. In the wake of the chargesheet, the life of Bakerwals in this region is bound to get more difficult.