Asifa’s family on seasonal retreat, this time amid grief, panic and fear

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 4/14/2018 11:01:10 AM

JAMMU, April 13: Their beds and belongings packed into neat rolls and tied with ropes, the family members and relatives of Asifa back on their journey to the upper reaches of Himalayas were camping in the foothills of Udhampur, near Doodhar village. It is a sense of grief and foreboding with which they move ahead.
Shazia, distantly related to Asifa, was busy feeding her two year old girl Sumaiya, who insisted on eating herself. “There was no threat we ever faced before this. Even women and girls have been roaming around near villages till late in the night.”
“There is no direct threat in Surinsar, Samba, where we were putting up. Locals have been nice to us but we now panic at the thought of going out alone,” she said, adding that they now make a conscious effort to not venture outside, particularly in the case of girls. She points out to her daughter Nazia Bibi, a nine-year old, who continuously wears a grim look on her face, “If this would happen to Asifa, is she safe?”
Amna Bi, Asifa’s aunt, has similar worries. “Ever since Asifa’s death, our daughters are scared of going to school,” she tells, as she continues to wash utensils with water stored in small plastic jugs and points out to nine-year-old Syeda. She is Asifa’s biological sister. She and Nazia used to play with Asifa and they ask us repeatedly, “what happened to her? What do we say?”
A teenaged-girl comes and sits next to us. She is introduced as Asifa’s elder sister, Muniza. Her father Muhammed Akhtar and mother stood a little distance away speaking before a visiting television crew. Before they leave, another crew arrives and many more follow. Muniza is again asked to face the camera and repeat the ordeal of talking about Asifa’s murder. The young girl parrots off the same lines repeatedly again and again. Three recordings later, she holds her head and gives it a shake.
Shazia has her own set of worries as she screams at a young lad, “When will they all leave. The men have to eat and then we pack and go.” She looks the other side with disdain and then smiles, “where were they all this time?” The media teams take no notice of her mutterings. They go about their business as Muhammad Akhtar, his wife and Muniza take turns repeatedly one after the other facing cameras.
Muniza hasn’t been herself ever since Asifa’s death. Her mother says, she fears stepping out. “Even the small 7 year and 9 year old girls have now begun to say that they will kill us,” she adds.
Even as the three month long silence is suddenly broken by launch of several campaigns across the country to support justice for 8-year-old Hiranagar rape victim, this brings little reprieve for the family and many other community members who migrate to the plains of Samba and Kathua during the summer months.
While they are as yet not sure of what these campaigns and publicity can do for the cause of justice, they are still grappling with the shock and trauma of Asifa’s brutal death and the insecurities caused by the communalization of the Jammu politics in its aftermath.
The families have pre-poned by a few weeks their migration to the upper reaches of the Himalayas, partly due to early and harsh summer but mostly because they are reeling under a sense of fear. Asifa’s home in Rasana is already locked and her foster father Muhammad Yusuf Pujwala has already left along with his wife, two children and livestock. The family is on its way to the traditional pasture lands of Warwan and could not be located.
Nomadic tribes of the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities living in close vicinity of Rasana village are mostly facing direct intimidation. Many of them are yet to move back northwards but they complain of social bias, harassment and even open threats, which they say was earlier unknown.
But for most others, the incident and the manner in which the discourse was fully communalized, there is dread and horror of coming back to the plains next summers. “We do feel a sense of fear even though nobody has said anything to us directly,” the women camping at Doodhar said.



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