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Brutal rape, murder of girl widens religious rift in Jammu’s Kathua

Over the years, the rift between the a nomadic Muslim community and Hindu villagers in Kathua has seen both sides approach the police multiple times.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2018 15:36 IST
Shiv Sunny
Shiv Sunny
Hindustan Times, Kathua
Kathua rape,Kathua rape case,Bakarwal community
People hold placards at a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl, in Kathua, near Jammu and a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, in New Delhi.(Reuters Photo)

Ever since they began living in the tiny Rasana village of Kathua district around four decades ago, the Bakarwal tribe — a nomadic community of Muslim cattle grazers — has had strained relations with the Hindu villagers.

The Bakarwals allege that Hindu men have been trying to force them out of the village by misbehaving with their girls and kicking around vessels they use to collect water. The Hindus say the Bakarwal Muslims are trying to construct a mosque and often graze cattle on land belonging to them.

While these tensions have prevailed for years, a dispute over the burial of an eight-year-old girl, who was allegedly gang raped and murdered in January, further widened the rift. The crime later took a political and communal turn, making matters worse.

“On the same day that my granddaughter’s body was found, some Hindus from the village refused to allow the girl’s body to be buried on a land that has been serving as our burial ground for years. We waited for hours before deciding to bury her in another part of the village late in the night,” alleged the girl’s grandmother.

The Hindus of the village, however, said the land was a disputed private property and they ensured arrangements for the burial elsewhere.

“We were not treated with respect even during a tragedy involving a child,” said Mohammad Shafi, a Bakarwal who readied to leave for the mountains with his family and cattle for the next four summer months, an annual practice involving the tribe.

Over the years, the rift between the two communities has seen both sides approach the police multiple times. “If our cattle ventured into land belonging to Hindus, they would use sharp weapons to maim our animals. Does an animal know the difference between a Hindu and Muslim property?” said the murdered girl’s grandfather.

After the girl’s murder, both sides have been vocal about the crime. A few days ago, Hindus formed a “non-political” group called the ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’. “We don’t want the situation politicised, but we will stand united for our own safety,” said Suresh Sharma, a villager.

Earlier in February, a retired government employee who is accused by the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s crime branch of masterminding the girl’s murder had earlier told a news channel that he would neither allow a mosque to be built, nor for the Bakarwals to graze cattle in his fields.

He said he was innocent in the murder case, but was arrested by the crime branch a few days later. Earlier, his 22-year-old son and 14-year-old nephew had been arrested for the rape- murder. “Ever since the murder, the Bakarwals have been trying to scare us by shouting pro-Pakistan slogans and rattling our gates with iron rods,” his daughter alleged.

Shafi said the murder and the subsequent activities were part of a plan to oust the Bakarwals from the village. “But we will return to this village after four months in the mountains. The village has been our home for decades,” he said.

First Published: Apr 13, 2018 07:35 IST