‘She Was Starved for 8 Days,’ Mothers of Kathua Rape Victim Grieve

“She went this side to fetch the horses, she never returned,” her mother points towards the path she last saw her on

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The eight-year-old Kathua rape-murder victim’s mothers are back from Srinagar to their homes in Jammu’s Kathua and Samba districts but nothing feels the same anymore. “She went from this side to fetch the horses, she never came back,” her adoptive mother Neemat* recalls to The Quint while she points towards the direction she last saw her child walk through.

Neemat had adopted the eight-year-old, Aafreen*, from her sister-in-law Rafeeza* when she was just one-year-old. Aafreen was with Neemat at their home in Kathua when she was abducted on 10 January 2017. The police charge sheet states that she was sedated and raped repeatedly, held captive in a Hindu prayer hall and was suffocated to death. She was found in the Rasana forests a week later on 17 January. The case is currently under trial in Pathankot.

As the trial continues in Pathakot, Neemat rewinds to how she and her husband Yunus got Aafreen. They had recently lost two children and only had sons, they wanted a daughter so Yunus asked his sister, Rafeeza. After some initial reluctance, Rafeeza finally agreed, and Aafreen got two mothers.

Rafeeza still saw her daughter each year. She and Aafreen spent time when the extended family, who are Gujjar Bakarwals, a nomadic Muslim tribe, traveled to Kashmir with their cattle for the summers each year. Neemat raised her, fed her, played with her and got her new clothes made whenever she asked. She gave Aafreen a home.

It is from the same home that Aafreen left to bring back the horses but never returned. One year after the Kathua rape case came to light, the mothers are looking for answers and contemplating if life could have turned out any differently.

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