Jammu: The brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year old girl has sparked outrage and anger across India. The body of Asifa Bano, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe, was found in a forest on 17 January near Kathua city of Indian-administered Kashmir. The case has become a religious flash-point in an already polarized Indian region.
Deepika Singh Rajawat, the lawyer appearing in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on behalf of Asifa Bano’s father Mohammad Akhtar is determined to fight for justice for the eight-year-old girl who was brutally gang-raped and murdered in the Kathua district of Jammu in January this year.
Chairperson of Voice For Rights, an NGO working in the field of human rights, Rajawat is not new to threats and insults but is surprised at the extent of verbal abuse being levied against her when she took up Asifa’s case. This has led her to write to the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court, asking the court to ensure her safety and security in the court. Rajawat spokes to Firstpost about the ‘prejudice’, ‘bias’ and ‘threats’ that she has been facing from her fellow colleagues, and the case.
Talking to news agency Rajawat said “I have been fighting cases of human rights abuse earlier also. Asifa comes from a family of shepherds. They are here today and somewhere else tomorrow. They are very poor. Ek dhamki denge to woh chup ho jayenge (one threat and they will keep quiet). I approached them in February. Asifa went missing on 10 January, but the police did not register an FIR. I felt I had to fight on their behalf.”
I filed the writ petition on behalf of Asifa’s father. He had sought a court-monitored investigation into the death of his daughter. The lawyers claim the investigation was not done in a fair manner. She added
I was at the court when Jammu Bar Association president BS Salathia passed by and said that I should not appear. I told him that I was not a member of the bar. But he told me that if ‘you will appear, we know how to stop you’. I immediately rushed to the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court and filed a complaint in which I said that I was not safe here and requested that I should be provided security. I also requested him to ensure my safety while I appear in the court. I am thankful that the honourable chief justice passed directions to the security wing of Jammu and Kashmir Police to ensure that I remain safe in the high court.
The story made headlines this week when Hindu right-wing groups protested over the arrest of eight Hindu men. The men the police have arrested include a retired government official, four police officers and a minor – all of them belong to a local Hindu community that has been involved in a land dispute with the Muslim nomads.