In early June, the verdict for the brutally savage drugging, gang rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano in Jammu Kashmir state was delivered which saw three men sentenced to life imprisonment and a further three police personnel jailed for five years for their complicity in her torture and the destruction of evidence. The court case was heard by a special court in Pathankot in India’s Northern state of Punjab.
Whilst the lawyers who fought the trial have hailed the righteousness of the verdict and prominent community leaders such as Mian Atlaf, an influential Gujjar leader and an oppositional legislator, have fiercely supported the fight for justice, there are also those who have unfortunately voiced backwardly opinions. Turning first to Asifa’s legal counsel, it has been reported that Mubeen Faruqi, a lawyer representing Asifa’s family, called the verdict a “victory for the truth.” Furthermore, the voice of reason and conscience remains strong, with public demonstrations and protests erupting across the nation through which civilians are demanding justice for Asifa Bano whose life has been cut short both so tragically and brutally.
Despite such strong solidarity for justice and mass outcry for the anguish of Asifa, the crime was ultimately driven by decades of ethnic hatred and religious differences. As such, CBS News online has reported that “there have been protests and business shutdowns- not only in anger over the rape and murder, but also in defence of the men accused.” This backlash against attaining justice for Asifa is a strong and alarming reminder that until religious differences can be reconciled, women and girls will continue to be targets of unspeakable brutality.
The response of the public and journalists at large express a sense of disappointment towards the perpetrators being spared the death penalty. It is also apparent that the widespread anger and outrage for Asifa’s anguish remains alive. People appear simply not impressed nor highly supportive of the light-handed nature of the judges’ verdict. The article here thus finds that the court’s ruling has clearly failed to make a strong stand against the disease of gender-based violence which, in particular, plagues the Indian subcontinent. Although, as a matter of law, the decision may be seen to be one that was well-reasoned, it is nonetheless inadequate and unresponsive. It was unresponsive as it failed to take a strong and forceful stand against those who feel no wrong in brutalizing women and girls. If the nation’s court system do not exercise greater firmness, then this in itself does nothing to address the vulnerability of women and girls, especially during times of war, or as regarding the hatred driving ethnic tensions as was the case here.
The crime was pre-planned heavily, with 8-year-old Asifa Bano being the target. The motive for the crime has reported to be ethnic tensions and disputes over land use. Here, BCC online has reported that “Investigators… believed that the accused men wished to terrorize the Gujjar community into leave Jammu.” Asifa was abducted by the perpetrators while she was rounding up the horses from the nearby forest. BBC online recounts that “she went missing on January 10th… on that afternoon, her mother recalls, Asifa went to the forest to bring home the horses. The horses returned but Asifa did not.” Sydney Morning Herald online briefly details the victim’s horrific ordeal as follows, “The investigation revealed [that] the girl had been sedated, gang-raped and strangled with her own scarf. Her head had been bashed with a rock. The brutality took place over four days in a small Hindu shrine.” Further, the child’s body was discovered by villagers on the 15th of January in a severely battered state. Furthermore, unfortunately Asifa’s burial was not carried out as planned, as upon arriving at the burial site which was a “graveyard in which the Gujjar [community] had bought some land a few years ago” they were met with aggressive “right wing Hindu activists who threatened them with violence if they were to continue with the burial.”
Asifa Bano’s suffering brings to light the stronghold of racial hatred in the Jammu Kashmir region whilst also reiterating the culture of rape which plagues the Indian subcontinent. Crucial for the move towards peace is the creation of society which values as inherent to its cultural fabric protecting and respecting women and girls, and thus abolishing the practice of seeing them as weak objects of prey and exploitation. In a land where, religious hatred and division run so deep, the move towards peace shall prove difficult. However, reconciling religious differences and histories is a major and crucial step that ought to be taken in order to secure the safety of women and girls, especially in such regions. Without change, at all levels – the personal, political and public – securing peace will prove extremely difficult.
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