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  • Anti-Muslim demonstrators shut down much of the town of Kathua in northern India on Wednesday. One woman said that if Hindu men accused of raping and killing a Muslim child are not released, “We will burn ourselves.’’

    Anti-Muslim demonstrators shut down much of the town of Kathua in northern India on Wednesday. One woman said that if Hindu men accused of raping and killing a Muslim child are not released, “We will burn ourselves.’’ | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 April 2018
Opinion

Nearly 40 lawyers have been charged with a criminal offense for trying to obstruct the police from filing the necessary paperwork for the court proceedings. 

On Monday, a mob of lawyers tried to block the police from entering a courthouse in northern India to prevent them from filing a charge sheet, which implicates eight men in the rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano.

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Nearly 40 lawyers have been charged with the criminal offense for trying to obstruct the police from filing the necessary paperwork for the court proceedings.  

The murder of the young Indian Muslim girl, after she was abducted and brutally gang-raped for three consecutive days by two to three men from the dominant Hindu sect, in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, has sparked outrage among people in the South Asian country.

Riots over the issue, which has split communities along religious lines, have broken out in several parts of the country.

At first, the news of the brutal gangrape was kept hidden by the police and the perpetrators, but months later, when it became public, Hindu nationalists took to streets defending the perpetrators.

"Her lips were bitten. There were marks of violence including burns on her thigh and face, and her legs had been broken with some heavy objects,” her father Muhammad Yousuf Pujwala said, adding the women who gave Bano a ceremonial bath before her burial "confirmed that her genitals were mutilated."

Bano, who belonged to a family of nomadic shepherds of the Bakharwal community, went missing on January 10 from Rasana village, some 72km east of Jammu city. According to her family, she had gone to the forest to graze some horses. The horses returned, but she didn't. Several days later, her body crumpled and smeared in blood was found in the same forest.

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The Chairperson of the State Commission for Women, Nayeema Mehjoor, who visited Bano’s family in January, revealed that they suspect the alleged rape and murder is linked to the "vast chunk of custodian land in the area." 

The perpetrators wanted to drive out Bano's Bakharwal nomadic community from the Hindu-dominated region of Kathua. The Muslim nomadic tribe, who live in hamlets in the Pir Panjal mountains, earn their livelihood by grazing cattle in the mountain pastures. 

"Basically we, nomadic Bakerwals, would spend two to three months at one place and then move to a different area with our herds, but some [extremists] propagated a false notion that we are now grabbing land," social activist and lawyer Talib Hussain, who is fighting Asifa’s case, told the Asia Times.

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Bano's family lodged an official complaint with the police, two days after she went missing. The officials showed some reluctance, alluding that the missing girl may have "eloped" with a boy and only began their investigation after the members of the community protested and blocked a highway. 

The police probe has revealed that Sanji Ram, the local temple custodian, was the mastermind behind keeping the news of the brutal rape and killing garbed, as he had agreed on paying over US$5,700 to create false evidence that would lead investigators away from him and his men, the Guardian reported. 

The police have arrested eight men, including a retired government official, along with four police officers and a juvenile in connection to Bano's death who was strangled to death by the perpetrators.

The official documents reveal, "the investigation conducted by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by SDPO Border Chadwal revealed that the accused kidnapped the minor girl and put her in a nearby cowshed at village Rassana, where he attempted to rape her and when she resisted, he killed her by way of strangulation."

"I knew something horrible had happened to my girl," 52-year-old Pujwala, father of the victim told the BBC, as he sat next to his wife, Naseema Bibi, who faintly whimpered her daughter's name repeatedly.   

Bibi described her daughter as a "chirping bird" who ran like a "deer." She looked after the herd when they traveled. 

"That made her the darling of the community," she said. "She was the center of our universe."

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