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At most they will kill us all, but we have home here, we will return: Asifa’s father

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Jammu: From somewhere over the hills of Sanasar, a broken father’s voice fleets in through the receiver.

“She did not know the difference between left and right. Did she think in terms of Hindu and Musalman?” he asks The Indian Express reporter.

The brutal rape and murder of his eight-year-old daughter Asifa has become the stalk for political parties across the country.

Unknowing, nursing grief, the Bakherwal nomad and his family silently packed their bags and set off on a 600 km journey up the hills like every summer, accompanied by their livestock.

Life does not stop, but the 35-year-old father cannot stop his tears as he complains,”If they had to take revenge, they could have picked someone else. She was an innocent child. Usey apney haath aur paun mein pata nahin tha, ki mera daayan haath kaun sa hai aur baayan haath kaun sa hai. Kabhi usney yeh nahin samjha ki Hindu kya hota hai aur Musalmaan kya hota hai (She couldn’t tell her arms from her legs, couldn’t tell which hand was right and which left. She never thought who was a Hindu, who a Muslim).”

Eight-year-old Asifa was the youngest of three children. Her elder brothers are in Classes 11 and 6 respectively. They go to schools in neighbouring villages during the time the family stays in Kathua.

Asifa’s father had already lost two children to an accident when he adopted the one-year-old from his sister.

“The girl would give company to her mother when we would all be away,” he says.

She would help her do the household chores. Being fond of animals, she would care for the family’s horses, two newborn lambs and a dog.

“She would insist on accompanying me whenever I went out of the house,” he says.

In the first week of January, young Asifa accompanied her mother to Samba town, to get clothes stitched for a cousin’s wedding. This was the last time she left home on a trip.

Four days before she could revel in her new clothes, she was abducted on January 10.

This summer, Asifa’s parents had decided to admit her to a private academy. Not with high hopes of making a teacher or a doctor out of her, but the simple aspiration that she would be able to look after herself and learn how to live well.

“Khoobsorat thi, kisi achchey ghar mein chali jaayegi (She was so pretty, we thought she would find a good groom),” he says.

However, the father adds that nothing like this has ever happened before.

“Our daughters would go to schools in the area and we would live with our Hindu neighbours like brothers and sisters… We would even visit each other’s home and attend their wedding functions,” he says.

The changes begun in the past few years.

“The accused incited people against us, making wild allegations, that we smuggle cows from Jammu to Kashmir for sale, that we sell drugs, that our cattle damage their standing crops… that our settlement would create problems for Hindus. However, we had no such thing in mind,” he says.

Ex-revenue official Sanji Ram who had taken up the role of a village elder after retirement was one of the people who had taken it upon himself to annoy the family out of its wits.

“They would not allow us to even walk on the road passing through the village… They would not hand over our goat or sheep that strayed over,” he says.

“But we never expected them to take it out on our daughter like this. At the most, we thought we would face losses, they would hit us, slap FIRs on us, make us pay fines. We never thought they could do something like this,” the father adds.

It is especially painful for the father that he did not think of checking inside the temple where Asifa was detained, though he passed it every day.

He had thought it was a pious place. Moreover, policemen would always be outside it.

“Our highest court is that of Allah, in which everyone is put on trial. We have left the matter to that court, whatever my Allah will decide is final,” he says.

The accused must have thought Asifa’s family would be a weak target and maximum complain to the police.

They hadn’t expected the matter would become this big.

“Rab kisi ko nahin chodta. Haq aur nahaq, jaayaz aur naajayaz ko dekh raha hai woh (The God does not spare anyone. What is right and wrong, He watches everything),” the father sounds hopeful.

He is also satisfied with the work of Jammu and Kashmir Police.

“Only a handful of people are protesting against the investigation. The state Chief Minister and investigating officials are Muslims. Most Hindus and Muslims of the region condemn the murder and want the accused punished,” he insists.

“Humanity comes first, before one’s religion as a Hindu or Muslim. We would have come on the roads seeking justice if this had happened to a Hindu girl,” he adds.

That is why, he says, he will return to the Kathua village come September, like he does every year, when it’s winter in Kargil. “Why will we not return? We have a home there. At the most, they will kill us as well.”

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