Sanna Tabbasum, 3, sits sniffling outside her locked house. Every day for the past month, she can be found at the same spot in this hilly village, waiting for her parents to return from the police station. The family of four, including an infant son whom Ashraf and Rukhsana carry with them, finds itself involved in a possible murder that has put the communally-sensitive Bhaderwah back on edge.
Rukhsana was named as her phone was found on the body of a 17-year-old Hindu girl found hanging from a tree on March 18 in the village, 5 km from Bhaderwah town. The last person the girl spoke to was a friend, Nasir.
Nasir, 18, was detained along with Rukhsana, who is in her early 20s, and a Babu Bakerwal for questioning. After a week, police said Rukhsana could go home for the night, but would have to present herself at the police station every day. Nasir and Bakerwal are still in police custody.
Protests over the girl’s death have prompted the administration to form an SIT headed by Additional SP Sargun Shukla. Hindu outfits have blamed the Muslim community for the girl’s death.
Rukhsana knew the girl through government-run women self-help groups. The girl’s father, who works at a bakery, says she collected instalments from group members. On March 16 evening, the girl’s mother saw her talking to Nasir from the nearby Nai Basti. She scolded and brought her home. Soon the girl left home, saying she was going to a relative’s place to collect an instalment. She didn’t take her cellphone.
Call records show Nasir rang up on Rukhsana’s phone nearly a dozen times between 5.50 pm and 5.59 pm. Nasir has admitted to talking to her, but claims that when she told him she had left home and asked him to accompany her, he had advised her to return. Police are unclear about the role of Bakerwal, 45.
However, police say, there are loose ends in the version of the girl’s family. The family claims to have gone to Nasir’s home to look for her on March 16 evening. Nasir reportedly told them the girl had called him from a temple nearby, and refused to accompany them there as it was late. In the morning, when they went to the temple, the family says, they could not find the girl. The family went to police on March 17 evening, but left without lodging an FIR. It was finally lodged on May 18 afternoon, and 10 minutes later, police got a call from the girl’s father, saying her body had been found. The girl’s feet were touching the ground, and the only thing keeping her upright was the dupatta around her neck tied to a tree.
A police officer says one of the doctors who conducted the autopsy said the girl appeared to have died hours before her body was found. “Where the girl was for two nights — this question is key.”
The girl’s family claims they didn’t go to police initially as they thought they would find her themselves. “Next day, we went to the police station, but the munshi (a head constable) delayed registration of the FIR,” the father says.
Rukhsana’s husband Ashraf, a labourer, has not been able to work since the incident. “I keep shuttling between home and the police station,’’ he says.
While Rukhsana is inside the police station, Ashraf waits with their son Adil, 1, outside. She needs to feed him at regular intervals. It’s night by the time they return home. A neighbour who looks after Sanna when her parents are away says she gets restless as the day progresses. “When Rukhsana was in police custody at night, the girl had got bedridden,” she adds.