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Death Penalty Hope in Heart, Kathua Victim's Family Sticks to Migration Calendar With Other Bakarwals

Enroute Kashmir Valley for their annual migration, the Kathua rape victim’s family say even death penalty is not punishment enough for the accused.

Aakash Hassan | News18.com@Aakashhassan

Updated:June 10, 2019, 10:36 AM IST
Death Penalty Hope in Heart, Kathua Victim's Family Sticks to Migration Calendar With Other Bakarwals
Illustration by Mir Suhail/ News18

Srinagar: The plains of Jammu are sweltering in the summer heat. The Bakarwals, nomads who traverse with their cattle, are crossing the mighty Pir Panjal mountain range. This is the annual travel calendar they have been following, perhaps for centuries now.

In January 2018, an eight-year-old girl from this tribe was kidnapped, sedated, gang-raped and brutally murdered allegedly by men from another community. Her burnt body was found a few days later. The case hit national and international headlines in April last year after protesters, including two ministers of the state government, marched in favour of the accused.

The case was shifted to Pathankot in Punjab by the Supreme Court and day-to-day in-camera trial began in the special court. Almost a year later, the court is likely to pronounce the verdict on Monday.

But the distraught parents of the victim are not in Pathankot; they are en-route Kashmir with their cattle. In the winters, the Bakarwals live in the plains of Jammu region, and in the summertime they move to the Kashmir Valley. They mostly live in and around grazing lands, and migrate to-and-fro from Jammu to Kashmir.

Speaking to News18.com, the parents said they were informed of the date of the verdict by their lawyer.

“We have to move as per our own schedule. What will we do in court now,” asked the heartbroken father. He is, however, optimistic that justice will be served.

“For me, justice will be done if the perpetrators are hanged,” he said. “Given their horrific act, even that is not enough.”

The family has pitched a tent in the woods on their way to the Valley with their cattle. The father can only wonder what would life have been like had his little girl lived.

“She was adorable and fun-loving even though we live a hard life. These sheep and horses were sort of her companions. She would guide them like an experienced shepherd,” he said, gazing at his grazing cattle.

The girl’s mother said she has been awaiting this day eagerly. “We keep thinking about her day and night. Now we fear even in these mountains, which are green and peaceful and have been our abode,” she said.

Not only the victim’s family, the incident has also changed the lives of other Bakarwals, who now fear for the safety of their children.

“Our life has changed. Earlier, we would fear only wild animals. But now when our children roam around, we don’t allow them to go far away,” said another Bakarwal family member.

The Bakarwals mainly follow three routes in their journey — Mughal Road, along the Srinagar-Jammu Highway and through the Chenab Valley. The journey is hectic. They have to cross speedy rivulets and high altitude passes, which remain draped in snow most of the time. Their journey can take a month, or sometimes two.

The parents of the victim say “they have a throbbing heart”. “If the culprits are not given the punishment we have been demanding, it will be complete travesty of justice,” said the victim’s father.

The parents of the victim are ready to approach higher courts if the verdict is not what they hoped for.

| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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