Bandipora rape case: Shia-Sunni divisions deepen after rape of a toddler in Kashmir exposes sectarian fissures

Ishfaq Naseem
The fact that the legal system in India does not deter rapists is evident in the number of reports of rapes that came in even after news of the Kathua verdict spread.

Sumbal, Bandipora: The single-storey brick and mud house was watched by a posse of security personnel wielding batons and guns. The house has been abandoned by the Sunni family of Tahir Ahmad Mir, who has been arrested for the rape of a toddler from minority Shia community in the sleepy town of Mallikpora in the north Kashmir district of Bandipora.

Desolate women were sitting on the veranda of a concrete white-washed house of the victim that lied adjacent to that of the accused as the shops outside were shuttered.

Last Wednesday as the local people had broken the Ramadhan fast, Tahir allegedly lured the girl to the compound of a school promising to give her candies and later raped her in the bathroom. After the girl had not returned home towards the evening her mother later found her crying in the school bathroom. When she narrated the incident, the local residents caught hold of the boy and led him to the police station.

Now six days later the Shia-Sunni divisions have never been so apparent in many areas of Sumbal as they became after the incident of rape.

While most of the parts of Kashmir observed shutdown on Monday on the call of Ittehadul Muslimeen, a constituent of the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, in the outlying areas of Mallikpora the Shia-Sunni divisions have deepened after the incident. The incident drew condemnation from across the political spectrum with both former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti, condemning the incident.

"The rape of a child in Tirgaam is a travesty. Police must ensure a speedy investigation with only one consideration and that is to identify the guilty, prepare a watertight case and ensure exemplary punishment to those responsible," tweeted Omar.

On Tuesday, Shia areas remained shut in Bandipora while the Sunni areas of Parrayporra and Zainpoora were open. Along the metalled road that connected Mallikpora with the main highway of Srinagar-Bandipora, the security personnel were deployed at many stretches while the police vehicles travelled frequently on it.

Combing her hair, the victim giggled while playing in the courtyard of her grandfather's house. She had been "frightened" by the steady stream of visitors coming to the house and prefers to stay with her mother only, said her uncle Altaf Hussain.

He said that her blood-stained clothes were taken away by the police and "the girl" has become "quieter" after the incident.

"There is a lot of stress that she has experienced," he said. "On the day she was raped, she had not returned home for a while in the evening and as her mother became anxious she later found her at the bathroom," he said.

The house where the girl's parents lived lied only a few metres away from that of the accused. After the protests by Shias, Tahir's family abandoned the house alleging that they did so in the wake of the demonstrations. His family now lives with one of their brothers in a Sunni dominated area of Zaripora, where the local residents said that "the charges against Tahir may have been cooked up".

Tahir's brother, Rameez Ahmad Mir, said that the rape charges were false and the girl's family had "annexed their house" which they had agreed to sell to them.

"We have taken Rs 3 lakh from the girl's grandfather for the house which we agreed to sell to them. They had promised to provide us with an alternate land in a nearby neighbourhood, but a local Shia resident objected to the sale and said that it belonged to him. As soon as we started telling them that we won't sell the house, they levelled charges of rape on my brother," said Rameez, who works as a mechanic. He said that after the protests they abandoned the house.

Rameez said that his brother was a minor and the "political" pressure was exerted on the police to scuttle the probe. As per the date of birth (DOB) certificate issued by the Islamic Education Trust, a local school in Mallikpora, the principal noted that Tahir was studying in Class 4 in the year 2016-17 and his DOB as per the school records was 23 July 2009.

Deputy Inspector General of Police, North Kashmir, Mohammad Suleman Chaudhary, said that the case was being probed. "We are awaiting the medical report of the girl and have arrested the boy, while we have also detained the principal of the educational institution which issued the DOB certificate," he said.

On the second day, today protests were witnessed in many parts of Kashmir. A youth was critically injured on Monday while scores of others were wounded in the clashes with the government forces. The mobile internet services remained snapped in parts of Kashmir including in Central Kashmir district of Budgam, where Shias live in sizeable numbers.

Angry youth took to streets in many Shia areas of Bandipora as the vehicles pasted with leaflets seeking justice for the girl were seen travelling across Kashmir. "We would continue with the protests until the girl gets justice. The boy should be hanged to set an example that such a beastly acted was not repeated with anyone else," said Rouheela Hassan, 22, a resident of Kawpoora area of Bandipora, where the shops remained shut against the rape. At many places, the youth forced the people to close down shops.

"The issue shouldn't be politicised and stringent punishment should be given to the culprit. In this case, the issue is being politicised as the victim is a Shia and the culprit is a Sunni," said Arif Hussain Rather, a youth, of Mallikpora, who said that there were no previous incidents of any Shia-Sunni clashes in the area.

"We didn't take out the protest rally as there are some doubts being raised over the authenticity of the rape allegations. The probe in the case should be swift and if the boy has committed the crime he should be given a stringent punishment," said Imtiyaz Ahmad Parray, of Sunni area of Parraypora. "The issue shouldn't be seen as a Shia-Sunni conflict, but Tahir's family was forced to abandon the house. They felt threatened, "said Abdul Ahad Khanday, 50, of Zaripora, Sumbal.

Also See: Jammu and Kashmir: Protests erupt after rape of three-year-old girl in Bandipora; Satya Pal Malik calls crime heinous

Islamic State J&K commander Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi, who praised Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, killed in Shopian encounter

Bandipora rape case: Governor Satya Pal Malik orders fast-tracked SIT probe, asks police to ascertain right age of accused

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