JUSTICE FIGHT FOR ASIFA
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At a place called Roundomail, some distance away from Udhampur, Amjad Ali squats on the shoulder of a road that goes uphill. He needs to catch his breath. With about 50 sheep, an equal number of goats, and 15 horses, he has walked a little over 110 km over nine days to reach here from Rasana village in Kathua, the place where an eight-year-old girl was first gang-raped and then killed. He will reach his destination, Kishtwar, after a month and a half.
Amjad, the parents of the dead girl and 17 others quietly left Rasana last Thursday as the country came face to face with two horrific crimes — one that saw a child murdered and thrown to the wolves in a forest that she often played in, the other that saw a helpless father beaten to death for protesting the violation of his young daughter.
“The pressure was unbearable,” said Amjad, adding: “We were getting threats, told that our cattle and houses would be burned down.”
How can we fight? What are we left with if our goats are killed? We are Bakarwals. This is our livelihood. If they die, we die. We have already lost a child, Amjad Ali said.
The father of the girl, a small, scraggy man with a patchy beard who mostly sat in silence next to an unruly bunch of goats, cleared their house in Rasana of the sparse belongings they had before setting off on this journey. He doesn’t plan to ever return to Kathua. Two other deras (families of sorts) in this group are unsure too.
“What will we return to?” he asked in halting, laboured Hindi. “I have only one hope now. If there is humanity in this country, this case has to be seen with such eyes. It’s not just me that has lost a daughter. Hindustan ki beti bhi thi woh.” Unable to correctly articulate the fact that the case has got so politicised that it couldn’t even come to court without the intervention of the higher judiciary, he said, “Politicians are taking the incident with them.”
This nomadic Bakarwal cluster of about 20, like other such collectives, doesn’t stay in Jammu once high summer approaches. From Anantnag originally, they trek upwards during this time or a bit later. In winter, with fodder for their cattle getting scarce, they come down, making money just once a year — when they sell their sheep and goats for Eid-ul-Zuha. But it’s not just fear for herd or property that is stopping him from thinking of Rasana again. Amjad pointed to a girl, a few years older than the one who was killed. “That is his other daughter. He is worried about her now. He thinks nobody is safe anymore there.”
Amjad, who seemed to be in his early 20s and smiled with what looked like pride when he said he had passed his Class X, hasn’t thought about the coming winter. “We have been in Kathua for so many years,” he said. “I was born there. Initially, when she died, we were in shock and despair but we thought it must be the work of a few wretched individuals. But then the rallies started and there was talk of the accused getting out. That’s when we felt very alone, vulnerable. I don’t feel like seeing Rasana again.”
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