AMRITA NAYAK DUTTA
These revelations, allegedly brought to light during the interrogation of the accused, form the basis of the chargesheet the Jammu & Kashmir police crime branch filed Monday.
New Delhi: As she was allegedly raped repeatedly at a local temple in Jammu’s Kathua district this January, eight-year-old Asifa, it is said, could offer little resistance as she had been sedated with an anti-anxiety drug.
She is thought to have opened her eyes every now and then during the assault, but the impact of the drug kept her from reacting. So strong was the dosage administered to the young girl that it is believed to have kept her hanging by a thread for days before she was actually killed.
On 14 January, four days after she was abducted while grazing her family’s ponies, Asifa was allegedly strangulated.
These and other ghastly details, police claim, were revealed by the two men and a juvenile who are the main suspects and have been arrested for the crime that has shaken Jammu and Kashmir and caused a communal divide in the Jammu region.
The details form the basis of the chargesheet the Jammu & Kashmir police crime branch filed in Kathua late on Monday. Local lawyers had prevented police from filing it in court earlier in the day, accusing them of bias and indicating the strong passions the case has flamed.
Police are likely to charge three of the seven accused, all in prison, with gang rape, making them liable for the death sentence if convicted of murder too. Other charges invoked include illegal confinement, conspiracy and destruction of evidence, sources said.
The juvenile has to be charged under a separate chargesheet.
The rape and murder of Asifa has assumed communal overtones and fed a raging controversy in an area said to be deeply polarised. And it’s these deep fault lines that allegedly lie at the heart of this sordid saga. The child’s abduction and murder, according to police, was part of a plot to drive out members of her community from a village named Rasana.
The protagonists of this alleged plot include Sanjhi Ram, the suspected mastermind, who is a former revenue official and local strongman; his son Vishal Kumar, a college student; police officer Deepak Khajuria; Ram’s 16-year-old nephew who is the juvenile, and his friend Parvesh Kumar.
A tribal, Asifa was a member of the nomadic Bakerwal community. In his confession, Vishal is alleged to have told police that the victim’s only fault was that “she was born in a family of Bakerwals”.
Sources said the idea to “teach the Bakerwals a lesson” allegedly started taking shape around November last year, against a backdrop of regular skirmishes between local Hindus and Bakerwals over land trespass and encroachment in Rasana and other nearby Kathua villages.
According to police, Sanjhi began planning the crime in December. As partners, he chose his juvenile nephew and Khajuria, 28 — a calculated choice, according to police, given the duo’s “grudge” against the community.
The juvenile had allegedly been beaten up by the Bakerwals earlier for reportedly teasing a girl of the community, while Khajuria found himself in frequent arguments and fights with the community over their animals trespassing on his land. Both allegedly sought revenge, and Ram instigated them further. An additional factor at play in getting the nephew on board was the fact that, if caught, he would get off easier on account of his age, police claim.
According to police, the assailants decided on kidnapping Asifa among other Bakerwal children because of her age. Rape, police sources said, was never part of the plan.
By the first week of January, the conspiracy was well in place, and the juvenile and Khajuria had been assigned their respective roles by Ram. While Khajuria had to procure drugs to keep Asifa sedated, the juvenile would kidnap her, police sources allege.
According to police, on 8 and 9 January, the juvenile lay in wait for an opportunity to abduct Asifa, but got one only on 10 January. He allegedly heard her voice as she came near his house to graze her family’s ponies, and called his friend Parvesh to help him out. Both of them allegedly misled the girl while she was searching for her animals, and, when she lost her way, forced her to eat a bhang confection readily available in the area, Mannar.
The juvenile then allegedly raped Asifa in the forest before the two carried her to the temple, known locally as ‘Devsthan’, of which Ram is the custodian.
Police sources told ThePrint that the juvenile subsequently informed his cousin Vishal, who was taking his exams at a Meerut university at the time, about the plot. That’s when Vishal reportedly returned to Rasana.
On 11 January, Asifa was allegedly given a high dosage of clonazepam — a drug used to control seizures and treat anxiety — after a lower-grade sedative failed to keep her sedated for a longer time. According to police, the drug kept her unconscious till the next day. By then, a massive search operation had begun for the child, and the juvenile and Parvesh stayed away from the Devsthan that day.
According to police, on 13 January, the juvenile and Vishal visited the temple and allegedly raped the child. Police sources say Ram, who was outside the temple at the time, “pulled up his son” when he found out about the rape.
The assault continued on 14 January, when Asifa was allegedly raped by the juvenile as well as Khajuria. She was then taken to a culvert and allegedly strangulated with a shawl she was wearing by Khajuria and the juvenile. Her head was also hit against a stone, reportedly later recovered from the spot by police.
According to police, her body was then taken back to the Devsthan. The original plan was to take her body in a car to a nullah, where it would have been washed away, but was instead dumped the next day in the forest.
The ‘destruction of evidence’
DNA tests on hair strands found at the Devsthan as well as Asifa’s body have confirmed her presence at the temple, as well as the juvenile’s at the site her body was found.
According to police sources, post-mortem tests on Asifa have indicated damage to private parts as well as injuries to her uterus, findings considered to be “clinching evidence” of sexual assault.
Police are awaiting two other forensic reports to prove the presence of the accused at the site of the crime.
However, it has been alleged that much of the evidence, including the victim’s vaginal slides, was destroyed by the police officers who investigated the case before it was handed over to the crime branch.
Two police personnel, Tilak Raj and Anand Dutta, from the Hiranagar police station, where Khajuria was posted as well, were arrested over suspicions that they washed Asifa’s blood- and mud-soaked clothes before sending them for forensic tests.
Sources said Ram had allegedly paid the two around Rs 4 lakh to destroy evidence, adding that a forensic lab in Delhi had confirmed Asifa’s clothes were washed before they received it.
Turmoil in Kathua
The crime has stoked communal passions in the politically sensitive Jammu region.
The arrest of the accused has triggered demonstrations in Kathua and neighbouring areas amid claims that the investigation was unfair and there have been demands for a CBI investigation. They are led by a new group called ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’ and backed by BJP leaders Lal Singh Chaudhary and Chander Prakash Ganga — both ministers in the state’s PDP-BJP government.
At least four women from Rasana have been on an indefinite hunger strike, including the mother of one of the accused, over the past 10 days to protest against the “wrongful arrests”.
The Hindu Ekta Manch is led by Kant Kumar, former sarpanch of Kootah, who claimed they had definitive evidence to prove the investigations were unfair.
“Several of those who were called for questioning have told us that they were forced to confess under extreme pressure by police,” Kumar told ThePrint, adding that “the truth will come to light very soon”.
The Manch is going to launch a protest Wednesday against the arrests and block the national highway.
The Jammu & Kashmir High Court Bar Association (Jammu) has joined the stir too, protesting since 4 April to demand a CBI investigation into the case, as demanded by the manch. It has called for a Jammu bandh Wednesday.
In a statement, the bar association has put forth other demands too, including the “deportation of illegally settled immigrants in and around Jammu”. According to sources, the association may also file a PIL to seek a stay on the crime branch’s investigation into the case.
The association has alleged that the coalition government had “deliberately created a hostile situation in an attempt to…disturb the harmonious atmosphere and character of Jammu region”, adding that its demands are “in the interest of the safety, security and peaceful survival of the nationalist people of Jammu region”.
The Hurriyat had also released a statement earlier, which said that Jammu’s Muslim community was being subjected “to severe harassment” and demanded stringent action against those involved in the heinous crime....