Fear of sectarian violence grips the valley as incident triggers protests across the state and people demand the accused to be hanged.
Image Courtesy: Reuters
Srinagar: The Kashmir valley shut down on Monday to protest against the sexual assault of a 3-year-old girl in Sumbal area of Bandipora district in northern Kashmir. The rape of a minor during the holy month of Ramzan has rocked the valley and there are fears of protests leading to sectarian violence.
The accused has been arrested and identified as Tahir Ahmad Mir. According to locals, he raped her in the toilet of the school. Locals say that the accused was working a car mechanic in nearby Sumbal town and is 20-years-old. The accused has claimed that he is a minor.
The incident happened last Wednesday evening when a local of Malikpora, in Sumbal area of Bandipora, lured the child with chewing gum and took her to a toilet in a nearby school and raped her. Her mother found her an hour later at the scene of the crime. On her way back home, the child identified the accused, loitering in the locality. The police took him into immediate custody and formed a special investigation team to probe the crime. The school certificate of the accused said that he was a minor but senior police officials claimed they were treating him as an adult as preliminary medical tests have shown.
A narrow stretch of dirt road leads down from the tin shed where the family lives to the toilet blocks of the local school, roughly 25 feet from the child’s home.
The mother found her daughter there on May 8. “I finished the evening prayers as the mosque announced iftaar, I started looking for her outside the house and after a while, heard her calling out in a weak voice. I pushed open the bathroom door and saw her on the floor with blood on her clothes,” her mother said breaking down in a report by The Indian Express.
Unable to continue, her aunt narrates the events of the evening in the report. The three-year-old’s paternal uncle lives a short walk away from her parents’ tin shed. On May 8, the aunt said, “Her uncle walked her back to her house and dropped her right outside the door. She got busy playing and he left for his own house as prayer time was approaching.”
At this point, according to the family, the accused spotted her and bought her chewing gum from a make-shift shop just outside her house. “He took her down to the school’s toilet block and pushed her inside before locking the door.” Her mother has no sense of how long she lay there.
Protests by students, political parties and the civil society have spread across the Kashmir Valley, with calls for strictest possible punishment.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Kashmir which escalated into intense clashes between protesters and government forces.
At least a dozen people, including government forces personnel, were injured when tear gas and pellet shotguns were fired to quell the protests in many towns, top police officer Swayam Prakash Pani told the AFP news agency.
Accused not a minor
Protests erupted on Sunday and spread to new areas on Monday after the suspect's family produced a school-issued birth certificate giving his age as 13.
Hundreds of students at three university campuses also protested, demanding capital punishment for the alleged perpetrator and action against the school principal.
The protesters claimed it was a fake birth certificate produced by the family to show him as a juvenile and save him from a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
On Monday, allegations emerged that the principal of another school issued a certificate for the accused that he was a minor.
Angry villagers demanded that the school be sealed, some even attempted to set it on fire. Police said the school's principal, who is also a close relative of the victim, has been taken into custody.
"A medical board will determine the age of accused through ossification test. We have not entertained the certificate issued by school principal'' said a senior police officer. Official sources said the principal is in "protective custody" because police fear he may be harmed by angry villagers.
The family of the accused has been asked to leave the village, a neighbour said in the report by IE, “There was a lot of hostility post the incident here and we asked them to leave.”
Many took to Twitter to say that the accused was either 23 or 27 years old and had a history of assaulting minor girls, but the allegations are yet to be proven.
“While the incident has elicited widespread condemnation from across the political divide in the Valley, it has also led to fears of sectarian tension. According to the police, the victim and the accused belong to two different Muslim sects. Fears of sectarian clashes grew deeper when fake pictures and videos, apparently of the three-year-old, began circulating on social media,” Scroll reported.
Religious and separatist leaders have appealed for unity.
“Fervent appeal to all people of Kashmir to maintain unity and vigil especially in view of mischievous forces waiting to create a sectarian divide out of this most reprehensible crime against a child which is indeed a crime against all humanity,” tweeted Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is also the presiding cleric of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar. “All of Kashmir stands in unison…demanding sternest punishment against the brute perpetrator.”
In Bandipora, a mass meeting of various religious sects was held at a prominent religious seminary on Monday. “All the religious groups are on the same page and have demanded exemplary punishment for the culprit,” said a senior police officer. “It’s a positive development and will certainly have an impact on the ground.”
The appeal for calm also came from the office of Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik. “Governor has also talked to religious leaders of different communities and asked them to deplore this gruesome incident unanimously and make an appeal to the people to remain calm and not let antisocial elements disturb peace and harmony in the society,” said a statement from the Governor’s office on Monday.
The police urged the local population to remain calm and not pay heed to rumours, seeking to dislodge attempts being made to give the incident a sectarian colour. The police have also imposed section 144 in the area.
There was a massive outpouring of shock and anger immediately after the incident was reported and religious groups, separatist organisations, trade groups and political parties have rallied behind the survivor’s family.
The incident has occurred barely a year after an 8-year-old girl belonging to a nomadic Bakarwal community in Jammu's Kathua district was gang-raped, drugged and murdered by the acquaintances of a local temple priest and policemen in January 2018, shocking the entire country. It caused widespread outrage and protests in Kashmir and many Indian cities and towns.