Just days before she went missing from near her home in January, the eight-year-old girl gangraped and murdered in Jammu’s Kathua had got new clothes stitched for a wedding, and asked for sandals to go with them. Days after her body was discovered, her mother gave it all away. Sitting under a bridge, just short of Manwal near Udhampur, on way to Kargil, the Bakerwal woman says looking at any of her daughter’s possessions would leave a lump in her throat. “So I gave away most of her clothes. The rest I locked up in a trunk and left behind.”
The trunk now lies in the home in the Kathua village that they have left for the summer, as part of the bi-annual migration. The mother, travelling with her two brothers, a sister, one of her two sons and their 40 horses, is now in Kishanpur, off the Jammu-Srinagar highway, past some tyre-repair shops, a few ‘Muslim hotels’ and some ‘Vaishno dhabas’, 24 km uphill from Udhampur. The railway bridges under one of which she sits are the only landmarks in the area.
The girl’s father left a couple of weeks earlier, with their livestock, and is currently near Sanasar. Her face creased far beyond her 40 years, her eyes constantly welling up, the mother remembers that Kargil, which they will make their way to over a one-month trek, was one of her daughter’s favourite places. As a train passes overhead, she adds, “If there was one place she would not want to leave, it was the meadows near there. It was also a place her beloved horses could run about free.” The animals remain her last living links to her daughter. As the horses, who have been out grazing saunter near, the 40-year-old points to the eight-year-old’s favourite, whom she had dubbed ‘Sundar’. “She would climb onto a smaller horse to get onto it,” says the mother, her face breaking into a fleeting smile.
Her husband and she never let her know they had adopted her, the 40-year-old adds. They had got her from his sister, after losing three children in a bus accident. Now she constantly worries about her remaining children, two sons in Classes 11 and 6. One of them has stayed back to attend school, but no longer spends the night in the Kathua village where the girl died. “He goes to school in the village but leaves for Samba at night, to stay with our relatives. It’s not safe in the village.”
They had not started sending the eight-year-old girl to school as she was “too mischievous”, the mother adds. “Humne socha thodi aur sayaani ho jaye to school bhejenge (We thought let her become a bit more mature).”
The chargesheet says the girl was raped multiple times inside a prayer hall where she was held captive for seven days, and starved and sedated. And that she was hit on the head with a stone to make sure she was dead.Her mother only knows what she saw. “Her skin seemed burnt, as if she had been electrocuted. I could feel her broken ribs and will never forget the blood stains on her head, where they had hit her.”
The tears falling as she says the word “rape”, she adds, “Kaise kar sakte hain aisa chhoti si bachchi ke saath (How can they do this to a little girl)?”
The mother would rather remember her daughter from a memory of two or three days before she went missing. The girl was in the kitchen playing with flour, and her brother clicked a photo — the same that has been splashed across social media. “He was teasing her, saying, ‘When our mother is not around, our sister is old enough to take care of us’.”
Maybe she wasn’t meant to be mother to a girl, the 40-year-old adds, her face crumbling into tears again. “I lost one earlier and now again. She had taken away the pain of losing my first daughter and now I am living that pain twice over… I can never think of raising a girl again, I could not keep them safe. Now, if my sons survive, that would be enough.”
The thought of her girl alone now, in a graveyard, haunts her, she adds. “They did not let us bury her in our graveyard. We had to take her 7 km away… We left in fear, leaving everything behind. They threatened us and said our homes will be razed and there would be nothing to return to. I only hope they don’t do that to her grave.”