Year After Kathua Girl's Murder, Trial Midway, Family Lives In Fear

Kathua rape and murder case: On January 17 last year, the child's body was found in the forests of Jammu and Kashmir's Rasana

The rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu's Kathua led to nationwide protests


Deep in the forests of Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua, a single-storey house in Rasana village reflects the trauma and isolation of a nomad family.  A year after the brutal rape and murder of their eight-year-old daughter - a case that made global headlines and triggered universal condemnation - the Bakerwal family is facing social ostracism.

Given the hostile neighbourhood, the police post set up outside does not make them feel safe. "People here don't talk to us, they don't even look at us. There is fear and that's why there is police guard for our protection," said the child's father.

Getting fodder for livestock remains the biggest challenge. The family says the neighbours refuse to sell them any. They have to buy it from the Kota village.

On January 17 last year, the child's body was found in the forests of Rasana. Kidnapped a week before, she had been drugged, repeatedly raped and murdered.

According to the investigations of the Crime Branch, the child was killed on January 14. After raping her one last time, the killer had strangled her and bashed her head with a stone, the police said.

Since then, the nomadic community living in the area has been facing relentless trauma. The case being heard by a court in Punjab's Pathankot, but the family is unsure of justice.

Despite the promise of a fast-track day-to-day hearing, the family says the case is dragging on. "We were told that we would get justice in 90 days. It is one year now. Who knows what will happen in court," the child's father said.

The bigger fear is that before the verdict comes, the accused may get out of jail and target them. "People are telling us that the accused will be released and they will not spare you," said the child's mother. 

The horrific murder shook the nation after police investigations revealed how the child was kept in a religious place, raped and murdered in an attempt to drive the nomadic Muslim community away from a Hindu-majority area.

Right-wing groups rallied behind the accused. The accused and the Hindu Ekta Munch, which spearheaded agitation in their favour, have been demanding that the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. To prevent filing of the charge-sheet in the case, lawyers in Kathua even tried to stop the investigators from going to court.

The incident polarised the state and two BJP ministers in the government of Mehbooba Mufti had to resign after NDTV reported on how they defended the perpetrators.

The prosecution is confident that all the eight accused charge-sheeted in the case will be convicted. So far, 114 prosecution witnesses have deposed before the court. Now it is the turn of the defence to present their witnesses.

"We have produced 114 witnesses who deposed before the court. There are a couple of witnesses who turned hostile, but during the cross examination, the facts were brought before the court. The trial has been conducted every day and there is not a single day when an adjournment was sought," said Ahfadul Mujtaba, a senior officer of the Crime Branch.

The Crime Branch says their investigation was not affected by pressure from any side, as the case was being monitored by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and the Supreme Court.