When the Pathankot court was sentencing six men found guilty in the rape and murder of a minor girl in the Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir, her parents were miles away, herding their livestock through the mountains towards Kargil, a journey the nomadic Bakarwals undertake twice a year.
Their daughter disappeared on January 10, 2018, and her body was found in a forest a week later. “There isn’t a day I don’t think about her. She is always before my eyes, mujhe baar baar yaad aati hai,” the father said.
He knew the verdict was coming Monday. “I could not bear to be in court and listen to the episode being repeated over and over” for the sentencing. He had learnt of the court ruling, and was somewhat dismayed that one of the seven accused had not been held guilty. “This was long overdue, par tasalli nahin hui (We are not completely satisfied). Sabko sazaa milni chahiye thi (all accused should have been punished).”
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He said months after his daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered, he had returned to the area to pray at her grave. An innocent child, he said, had been killed for no reason, and “justice will only be done if all accused of taking away our child are given the punishment they deserve”.
The mother was more vocal: “I want justice for my girl and that justice will be delivered when all the accused are hanged.”
“I was at her grave two months ago… bohot yaad aati hai, hum ab bhi ro rahe hain (we remember her a lot, and we still weep).” Her brother, the girl’s adopted father, had lost two children in a bus accident around the time their daughter was born. For more than a year, the brother kept asking her for the child. She finally agreed and gave her youngest child to her brother.
The girl’s parents belong to the nomadic Bakarwal tribe, one of 12 Scheduled Tribes in J&K with a population of just over 60,000. They steer their livestock along the highways and forest routes in the mountains. They stop where they can and pitch tent, walking for more than four months a year in search of grazing grounds.