By J.S. von Dacre
Investigative Journalist of the International Criminal Court against Child Kidnapping
The face of eight-year-old Asifa Bano is plastered on newspapers all across the world. An umbrella of lashes frames her big, dark eyes as she stares back at the viewer, in a haunting gaze that demands to know how her life could be so tragically and heinously cut short.
No words could encapsulate the sheer terror, agony, and despair this little girl must have felt in the last moments of her life. Any hope she had for a loved one to rescue her, was snuffed out–swiftly and callously, like a candle blown out in the coldest of winds.
Asifa was kidnapped and held in a temple for many days where she was gang-raped, tortured and finally, killed. She was then strangled before a rock was used to bludgeon her head. It is alleged that one of the police officers involved in the crime, pleaded to be able to rape her one more time before she died.
Sanji Ram, a 60-year-old retired government official, believed to be the leader of the gang, his son, Vishal, his nephew, his friend, and a minor, have been accused of Asifa’s rape and murder.
Also implicated are police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Mr. Khajuria, who all allegedly helped to plan the schoolgirl's abduction from the Kashmiri meadows where she was tending to her horses on that fateful day that she was taken.
It is believed that the motivation for the ruthless act was to force the Gujjars, a nomadic Muslim community of shepherds to which Asifa belonged, out of Jammu. The divide between the two religious sides–Hindus and Muslims, has long been fuelled by a bitter feud.
Mohammed Yousuf Pujwala, Asifa’s adoptive father said, "She played with all the children…She didn't know the difference between a Muslim and a Hindu. She was only 8 years old.
"Now every moment I feel her absence. Everything reminds me of her–her clothes, her place at the table, the horses.”
When Asifa disappeared on 10 January, her family knew something was wrong when her horses returned without her. They immediately launched a search for her through the long night with lanterns, flashlights, and axes. When they came up empty-handed, they filed a complaint with the police. Yet, according to her parents, the officers were unhelpful, with one even suggesting that the eight-year-old had eloped with a boy.
Speaking to the BBC, Asifa’s mother, Naseema, described the moment she saw her daughter’s crumpled body, "She had been tortured. Her legs were broken…Her nails had turned black and there were blue and red marks on her arm and fingers."
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have spilled raucously on streets all across India to demand justice.
Yet, these protests continue to be a recurring theme while rapes in India keep increasing. The number of registered rape cases in Mumbai alone rose by 40 per cent in 2017 when compared to 2016. Out of that figure, almost 60 per cent were minor girls.
In the past week, the body of an unidentified eleven-year-old girl was discovered on the side of a road in Surat. She was tortured, raped and murdered; her body was marked with over 80 injuries, some of which covered her genitals.
Miles away in Kotwali Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, a seven-year-old girl’s body was found. While her parents were distracted with preparations for a wedding, the child was kidnapped, raped, murdered and then discarded on a dusty roadside–far away from her family and a justice system that continues to fail others like her.