The three-year-old child lies shivering under the folds of a faded blue blanket draped over her. Eyes half-open, she yelps in pain as she moves in her sleep. Sitting beside her, the mother is inconsolable, her headscarf soaked in tears.
The mother straightens out the blankets over the child, wipes her face again and says, “I found her lying on the bathroom floor. Her clothes had been peeled off her, but not torn,” she says. “She has been sleeping most of the time but I can feel how much pain she is in. She doesn’t even understand what has happened.”
The family does not have a house: a tin and wood shed is all they have for a home in a North Kashmir village. The child was allegedly raped last Wednesday and the incident has sparked widespread outrage and protests across the Valley since Sunday. The J&K Police has already arrested the accused.
The protesters, who have clashed with police and other security personnel in different parts of the Valley, have demanded capital punishment for the culprit. So far, the clashes have left several injured.
The mother found her daughter there on May 8. “I finished the evening prayers as the mosque announced iftaar, I started looking for her outside the house and after a while, heard her calling out in a weak voice. I pushed open the bathroom door and saw her on the floor with blood on her clothes,” her mother said breaking down.
Unable to continue, her aunt narrates the events of the evening. The three-year-old’s paternal uncle lives a short walk away from her parents’ tin shed. On May 8, the aunt said, “Her uncle walked her back to her house and dropped her right outside the door. She got busy playing and he left for his own house as prayer time was approaching.”
At this point, according to the family, the accused spotted her and bought her chewing gum from a make-shift shop just outside her house. “He took her down to the school’s toilet block and pushed her inside before locking the door.” Her mother has no sense of how long she lay there.
The child told the family the name of the accused. “We went straight to the police. The boy’s family said if he has done this, we will kill him, but we said we will hand this over to the police and let the law take its course,” says the girl’s aunt. “She told the police his name. She used his nick name. They have her recording.”
The youngest of three siblings, she was yet to join school but would follow her brothers on their way to formal school in the morning and religious school by evening. The siblings, 5 and 7 years, think their sister has been given a drubbing by either parent and that’s why she remains asleep most of the day. “We have sent them away to their maternal grandmother’s. They got scared of the growing crowds here,” her aunt added.
Men and women, relatives and neighbours and offer words of condolence. The family says that doctors have advised not to crowd the toddler’s room but every few minutes, the door opens and someone comes in to place their hand over her head. The girl’s father refuses to meet anyone and her grandfather is yet to come to terms with the incident. “This should not have happened to her. She is so little, yet to move beyond milk,” he said.
The family of the accused has been asked to leave the village, a neighbour said, “There was a lot of hostility post the incident here and we asked them to leave.”
DIG North Kashmir Range, Suleman Choudhary told The Indian Express that the police acted swiftly and the accused was arrested the same evening and an FIR lodged under sections 363, 376 and the POCSO Act. “The matter is under investigation, we are collecting evidence and the accused is an adult and worked as a mason,” he said. Additionally, a Special Investigation Team has been constituted headed by an SDPO.
The police urged the local population to remain calm and not pay heed to rumours, seeking to dislodge attempts being made to give the incident a sectarian colour. The police have also imposed section 144 in the area.
There is, however, massive outpouring of shock and anger immediately after the incident was reported and religious groups, separatist organisations, trade groups and political parties have rallied behind the survivor’s family.
In a statement, the Joint Resistance Leadership expressed “deep grief and sorrow on the unfortunate and immoral incident.” All Parties Hurriyat Conference Chairman Syed Ali Geelani termed such incidents as a “black stain on our social fabric.”
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq urged people of Kashmir to maintain unity and vigil “especially in view of mischievous forces waiting to create a sectarian divide out of this most reprehensible crime against a child which is indeed a crime against all humanity”.
Governor Satya Pal Malik also expressed shock and pain over the incident and has taken a review of the investigation into the case. The government said an inquiry is being conducted on fast-track basis and was being personally monitored by the Divisional Commissioner. The National Conference condemned the incident and asked for “exemplary punishment” for the accused.
Meanwhile, in the street outside the house where the three-year-old rests, children close to her age play on the roads, as scores of security personnel line the roads enforcing curfew. Inside the house, her mother strokes her hair and says, “She was my most easy-going child, never fussy. Now she can’t even move.”