Jammu: Ten months after his eight-year-old daughter was raped and murdered in Rasana village of Kathua, Mohammed Yousuf receives nothing but anger.
The family, which is camping at an isolated spot near Cheechi Mata temple in Samba, says the village has made a decision to ostracise them – neither letting them graze cattle on village pastures nor buy milk and other products.
Meanwhile, they have been denied access to funds raised in their support by Jammu and Kashmir Bank, and they feel abandoned by those who stood by them when a political and communal tug-of-war began over their daughter’s murder this past April.
On November 14, they asked the Pathankot court to remove their advocate, Deepika Singh Rajawat, from the case. Rajawat has not been in contact with the family, they told The Wire. She also appeared for only two hearings of the case.
“We do not where she is now,” said Yousuf. “She is our lawyer but she has neither been talking to us nor to the other people connected with the case.”
He has more pressing troubles, however. “My problem is not what Deepika is doing, but that the villagers in Rasana have made up their mind not to allow our cattle to graze their pasture,” he said. “They will give to the Hindu shepherds only and not us. This is more dangerous than killing us in a riot.”
They stay away from the village out of fear of being attached by resentful villagers. “A number of Bakarwal families have settled down in majority-Muslim areas instead of coming back to their homes, which are in Hindu-dominated areas. They are fearful,” he said.
Villagers deny the ‘propaganda’
Under a fig-tree near Kootah Morh in Rasana, a group of people arrive every day for one reason – to demand a CBI probe into the case, a cause in which they see the Bakarwals as opponents.
Locals gathered there dismissed the claims of social boycott, and said the decision not to let the nomadic community graze was purely by individual choice.
“They are land grabbers. Why should we give land to them for grazing?” said Janak Raj Sharma. “No one is stopping them from grazing their cattle on lands owned by them. But we have decided not to let them grab our lands and destroy our property.”
“This is mere propaganda that we are not letting them return to their village. They can come and stay where their homes are. They are part of our culture,” said Santosh Devi, another activist. Calling the Rasana rape and murder a plot to divide the people of Jammu, she said: “The plot was hatched to force Hindus to flee Rasana village.”
Santosh Devi denies that the Hindus of Rasana have barred the nomadic Muslim communities – Gujjars and Bakkarwals – from returning to their traditional pastures. But the demand for a CBI investigation, which grew into a heated nationwide debate, has driven a wedge between the communities on the ground.
“It is a lie that is being spread to defame us that we are not allowing Gujjars and Bakarwals to return,” she told The Wire. “We sit here every day and we just want a fair enquiry. How can they say they are afraid of us? We are the ones who are scared because of the things they have been saying.”
“No one is stopping the [victim’s] family from coming back,” added Geeta Devi. “We have just said that we will not give them our land to graze on this time. If they want justice for the girl, they should be here with us – instead of going against us.”
Mohammed Yousuf says he is powerless in the political storm over his daughter’s murder.
“The case is going on in court. What can be done about it? I just want to request the government to shift us to some place where I can graze my cattle,” he said. “For 40 years we have had no issues, but now I cannot go back to the village even if I want to.”
“They say I should not fear them and they also want justice for my daughter. But I am a tribal, this is my livelihood. If they do not give me grazing land, how will I survive? How is this helping my family?”
Pallavi Sareen is a freelance journalist working in Jammu & Kashmir who writes for Kashmir Times and Kashmir Life.