Since January 17, the residents of the villages located near the Kathua’s Rasana have been in shock. The brutal gangrape-and-murder of an eight-year-old girl from a nomadic Bakherwal Muslim community, which sparked nationwide outrage, is the topic of discussion here.
Some, who knew the child’s family, say her biological parents were simple folks and stayed out of all trouble.
“They were gentle people… (and) never argued with anybody…Whenever he (the child’s father) came to the village to purchase something or to arrange water for his livestock, he used to greet everyone, he met, with a smile,” says Om Parkash Sharma of Dhamiyal, a Hindu village whose boundary touches the forest where the Bakherwal family lived. Sharma runs a provision store in the village with a population of nearly 700-800 people, mostly Brahmins and Rajputs.
The Bakherwal family had embarked on a 600-km-long journey on foot through the treacherous mountains to Kargil, leaving behind their daughter, who was adopted by her uncle.
“The family did not have much interaction with the people residing nearby Rasana village, but sold leaves of trees standing on their land to a Gaddi, also a nomad from Hindu community, for the past many years,” Sharma says.
He adds that the family had constructed a two-to-three room, single-storey house on a land purchased from a Rajput family from Kootah village.
Another resident of Dhamiyal, who did not wished to be named, tells The Indian Express: “Sometimes, villagers used to have arguments with them over their livestock or horses entering the nearby fields and damaging standing crop, but both sides maintained cordial relations…The couple and their children were so gentle that even if somebody said something in a fit of rage, they kept silent.”
Yash Pal Khajuria (45), who runs a utensils shop near Hiranagar Morh, says most of the residents in the nearby villages — Kootah, Dhamiyal, Satura, Kannah, Patta and Banairh — want death penalty for the criminals. “What has happened is a not a crime, but a sin. We too want justice for the girl. The guilty must be hanged, irrespective of their being Hindu or a Muslim,’’ he says.
Another Kootah resident, who also did not wished to be named, says almost all people in the area sympathised with the Bakarwal family.
“If there are some voices expressing reservations about the fairness of Crime Branch investigations, no one else, but the state government itself is to be held responsible. Its investigating team included an official, who was in the past, was arrested on charges of raping a Hindu girl and murdering her brother,” he says. The official was later acquitted by a court and also exonerated in the matter during an departmental enquiry.
However, 60-year-old Phoolan Bibi of Kannah, says there was an atmosphere of uncertainty in the area as no one knew when some anti-social element would commit some mischief.
Meanwhile, an eerie calm prevails in Rasana. While the Bakarwal family’s house on one side a road between Upper Kootah and Rasana stands locked, the doors of the ‘Devsthan’, situated nearly 1.5 km away, have also not opened since the body was recovered by the police.
Trial begins today
Jammu: The trial in the Kathua rape-and-murder case will begin on Monday against eight accused, who allegedly held an eight-year-old girl in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district for a week in January this year during which she was kept sedated and sexually assaulted before being bludgeoned to death. The accused include a juvenile against whom a separate charge sheet was filed. —PTI