Srinagar: The crime branch of JK Police has concluded investigations into the rape and murder of 8-year-old Gujjar girl Asifa Bano in Kathua district. The crime branch is expected to submit in court its chargesheet in a week’s time, government sources told Kashmir Reader on Wednesday. The court will be told that the rape and murder was committed as part of a conspiracy to drive out the nomadic Gujjar community from their homes and lands in Kathua district.
Sources said that the crime branch has arrested eight persons in the case. “Five accused have been sent to judicial custody,” they said. “Two are in the custody of crime branch: Head Constable Tilak Raj and Sub-Inspector Anand Kumar. Both of them are accused of destruction of evidence.”
A juvenile arrested for the crime, Shubham, is in the custody of a juvenile home.
Sources identified the five accused in judicial custody as Sanji Ram, his son Vishal, who is a Special Police officer (SPO), SPO Deepak Khajuria, Surinder Verma and Ramesh Kumar.
Sources said the crime branch has recorded statements of almost a hundred witnesses. Besides, forensic reports establishing the crime have been received. The DNA report of an accused is expected soon.
“The rape and murder was part of a well-planned conspiracy,” the government sources said. “The idea was to drive away the nomadic Gujjar community from their homes and ancestral lands.”
Recent media reports have claimed that strands of hair recovered from Devisthan temple in Hiranagar, of which Sanji Ram is caretaker, confirmed that Asifa was kept captive inside the temple. One of the accused also told the police that she was held there, kept unconscious by using a sedative.
When the heinous rape and murder was reported in news, it created outrage across Jammu and Kashmir. A few days later, an outfit named Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM) was formed, whose members were closely allied with the ruling BJP and other right-wing Hindu groups, to demand that the arrested persons be freed and the case handed over to Government of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Two cabinet ministers of the BJP lent their support to the HEM and addressed a rally organised by HEM in Kathua.
Government sources said that the crime may have been committed because of the Hindu community’s fear that if the Forest Rights Act, passed by Indian Parliament in 2006, is implemented in J&K, it would change the religious demographics in Kathua and adjoining areas. According to official figures, Scheduled Tribes, who are mostly Muslims, make up nearly 14 percent of J&K’s population and the Forest Rights Act would give them exclusive rights to the forest lands from which Hindu groups have long been trying to evict them.
Asifa was abducted when she was shepherding her horses at Rasna village of Kathua on January 10. Her disfigured body was found on January 17. During the police investigations it was established that she was raped before she was murdered. It was also established that some policemen helped in
destroying the evidence of the crime.