Sumbal (Bandipora): It had only been a few days since three-year-old Maryam had started attending Maktab to learn the Quran with the other children of the village. Since she was too young to read the verses of the holy book, her teacher, put her onto learning alphabets.
On Wednesday evening, after she returned home from Maktab little Maryam was exhilarated to find her uncle in their tin-roofed shanty house. It was then that the Azaan began echoing from the loudspeaker of a nearby mosque marking the start of the Iftar period, the time after sunset when Muslims break their fast during the month of Ramadan.
Her uncle, Gulam, left for the evening prayers and Maryam followed after him.
“She came with me outside. I held her hand and took her up to the mosque, which is a few meters away and then told her to go back home. She willingly left,” Gulam said.
As Maryam was nearing her house, a local youth who she knew as a resident of her neighbourhood, approached her with a few chewing gums. She accepted them while he scooped her up and took her away.
The boy took her to a nearby government school. At that time, most people were either having Iftar or praying in the mosque.
After 15 minutes, the shopkeeper from whom he had bought the chewing gums, saw him passing by on the road. But, there was no sign of Maryam.
Half-an-hour passed by but Maryam didn’t show up. She must be with her uncle, was her mother Jabeena’s initial assumption. After waiting around for a few more minutes, soon left the house to find Maryam.
Jabeena was unable to find her. Even Gulam had left the mosque by then. As last remnants of daylight began fading, Jabeen started frantically looking for her daughter
A small hamlet with 80 households, Malikpora, is thirty kilometres away from Srinagar. The village is surrounded by paddy fields with a pond on one side. Jabeena was worried that Maryam might have gone to close to the water body.
She kept calling out her name but with no avail. As she was heading towards the pond, a lady from the neighbourhood told her that she had heard cries from the toilet of the government school, which is a stone’s throw away from Jabeena’s house.
Jabeena rushed to the school and begun calling out Maryam’s name only to get a cry in response.
“She was crying. As I opened the door of the toilet I saw her sitting on the floor with her trousers down,” she told News18.
“I thought she has peed in her trouser. But when I tried to lift her up, I realised that there was blood on her legs,” she recalled.
Jabeena took the 3-year-old home where her husband, Ahmad, had also come by that time. The two asked Maryam what she had been doing there.
“She told us that a bayya(referred to someone elder) gave her chewing gums and took her there,” said Jabeena. As Maryam sat narrating her tale, Jabeena and her husband realised that she had been raped.
Ahmad and Jabeena took Maryam and left to look for the perpetrator. He was around the same shop from where he had brought the ominous chewing gums.
“Maryam recognised her and told her father that he (the perpetrator) had taken her to the school,” said Jabeena. Ahmad caught him and took him to his parents. Maryam, her mother said, narrated the same incident there.
The perpetrator was later arrested by the police. 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.
Police have constituted a special investigating team to probe the case.
“We have started the investigations. The SIT is working, the suspect has been arrested,” Zahid Malik, Superintendent of Police Bandipora told News18.
As per the shopkeeper, the accused bought five chewing gums and two shampoo packets. The next day, the shopkeeper is said to have found used shampoo packets at the spot where the minor was allegedly raped.
“Perhaps he had used the shampoo while raping her,” the shopkeeper said.
Reeling from the incident, Maryam is now in a state of perpetual shock and often breaks into a sob. She is still unable to walk properly.
To console her, Jabeena takes the child to the nearby fields. “Hang him. How can anyone do this to a kid,” said Jabeena, with her anger filled eyes. “What had she done? I feel like killing myself.”
Meanwhile, protests have erupted in Kashmir following reports of the rape. In Srinagar, protest rallies were taken out with a number of placards that read – ‘Hang the Rapist’. People from all walks of life including politicians have expressed their anger and condemned the incident, demanding a speedy investigation in the case.
The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, said that such people should be “stoned to death.”
“Mortified to hear about the rape of a 3-year-old girl in Sumbal. What kind of a sick pervert would do this? Society often blames women for inviting unwanted attention but what was this child’s fault? Times like these, Shariah law seems apt so that such paedophiles are stoned to death,” she tweeted.
IAS officer-turned-politician, Shah Faesal, echoed the view and demanded that the culprit be sent to the gallows.
Earlier, another shocking rape case surfaced in Bandipora district in which a girl was raped by her father.
(All names have been changed to protect identities).