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Missing horse returned home but she didn’t: Kathua rape victim’s family remembers gentle girl who did not fear the jungle

According to the charge sheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s crime branch on Monday night, the eight-year-old girl had been abducted, confined to the temple and gang-raped for a week before being killed.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2018 13:56 IST
Shiv Sunny
Shiv Sunny
Hindustan Times, Kathua/Samba
Kathua rape,Kathua rape case,Bakawral tribe
Villagers sit on a hunger strike demanding a CBI probe into the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua district.(REUTERS)

The eight-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Jammu’s Kathua, triggering outrage in the region and elsewhere in India, wasn’t enrolled in school. She had just one priority --to ensure that the family’s horses, sheep and goats returned to their farmhouse every evening.

If any of them was missing, she would run down the rocky terrain through an isolated jungle in search of the animal. “Every evening, she would call-count the animals for me. I couldn’t get her schooled, but she learnt counting,” said her adoptive father, who belongs to the nomadic Bakarwal tribe, in a phone interview.

When one of the horses did not return on January 10, she hopped down to the nearby Rasana village. The missing horse returned home a day later, but the girl did not. Her body was found one week later in a jungle close to the village temple.

According to the charge sheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s crime branch on Monday night, the little girl had been abducted, confined to the temple and gang-raped for a week before being killed. Her brutal rape-murder , for which eight people have been charged, has polarised the state socially, politically and on communal lines.

“She was shy and gentle, but a brave girl who did not fear the dark or the jungles. She spoke little, but she would have certainly revealed the rape to us had her life been spared,” said her biological grandfather who lives in a concrete home nestled in the mountains and far from civilisation in nearby Samba district.

Her adoptive father always feared separation from his daughter, but he never thought she would be snatched from him forever. He had informally adopted the girl after a tragedy. “The man had lost his mother and all his three children to a road accident in Jammu’s Mansar around a decade ago. The couple was distraught and lonely,” said the girl’s biological grandfather.

She had been “gifted” away when she was only three months old. “I had four children and the couple had none. I made the sacrifice to wipe the tears of the couple and bring some joy in their lives,” said the biological father over the phone from a location in the mountains.

The agreement was that the girl would return to her own home once she entered her teenage years. “I would rarely get to meet her, but I waited excitedly to see her grow up. She did not show any interest in returning to us, but I had hopes,” said her 16-year-old sister, who lives with her grandparents and is the only child among her siblings to go to school.

“When I last met her in November, I asked her to return to us. She hid behind her adoptive mother and said her adoptive parents would be lonely and would have no one to look after their cattle if she left them,” said her grandmother.

The girl’s relatives said they did not want the crime to be politicised, but wanted her killers to be awarded the “same fate” that she had faced. “We are poor nomads and die earlier than the rich people. But our little girl was too young and innocent to die,” her grandfather said.

About a decade ago, the girl’s adoptive father purchased a large piece of land in the middle of a forest on the outskirts of the village. He constructed a three-room house in one corner of the land and cleared the rest to accommodate his animals. His home being the only concrete home of all Bakarwal families in Rasana village, he fenced the entire property using thorned branches.

The only house within a nearly 1 kilometre radius, it is equipped with only the basic necessities and does not have electricity or water connections. Though the house has a kitchen, the family cooks on a mud hearth outside. “My daughter and the animals were our only property. We never felt unsafe,” said the girl’s adoptive father.

After the crime took a political turn, the man left for the mountains with his wife and their animals earlier this week.

First Published: Apr 13, 2018 09:00 IST