An eight-year-old who was raped and murdered in Kathua, India, was remembered at the Surrey Vaisakhi parade.
Asifa Bano, who belonged to a Muslim nomad community, was kidnapped, held captive in a Hindu temple, sedated, sexually assaulted, and then brutally killed in January this year.
Although her relatives and activists followed the whole episode closely at the time, the issue has only recently received international attention.
As angry protests were held all over the globe, including one in Surrey on April 19, the United Nations and International Monetary Fund also came out with strong statements.
What outraged most people was the support given to the accused in the case by leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
The police charge sheet has established that this was done as part of a larger conspiracy to intimidate community members of the deceased child and force them to migrate.
It is believed that rape was used as a weapon to shame these Muslims. The assailants kidnapped Asifa when she had taken the family horses out to graze. Her body was later dumped in a jungle.
Last week, hundreds of people assembled at Holland Park in Surrey to attend a vigil organized by Global Girl Power. The widespread anger was noticed across Lower Mainland as Spice Radio CEO Shushma Datt and her team took to social media to register their protest.
Datt even tweeted in Hindi, questioning Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party has either tried to shield the perpetrators or is trying to dilute attention on the matter.
An estimated 500,000 people showed up at the Surrey Vaisakhi parade, where posters with pictures of the victim carried the slogan “Justice for Asifa”. They could be seen on display at various corners along the parade route.
Some floats also carried the poster, such as one belonging to the Mamta Foundation (see top of this article), which tries to help abandoned and destitute girls in India.
Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple spokesman Gian Singh Gill told the Straight that the community here is distraught over what happened to Asifa and these posters were manifestation of that anger. (The Surrey Vaisakhi parade is held every year under the aegis of Dashmesh Darbar.)
Asifa's story highlighted at library forum
Today, visiting Indian human rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Buta Singh spoke about the case of Asifa at an event organized by Radical Desi, Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, Seerat, and Punjabi Sahit Sabha (Mudhli).
Both speakers told the gathering at the Surrey Newton Library that Asifa’s rape and murder are part of a pattern of using the bodies of women and young girls as a battlefield.
They insisted that any attempt to dilute the gravity of this case is helping the perpetrators and the BJP that is backing them.
Those in attendance included prominent media broadcasters Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, Imtiaz Popat, and Balli Kaur Deol (who was one of the organizers of April 19 vigil); MLA Rachna Singh; Makhan Tutt of the Mamta Foundation; film actor BKS Rakhra; Sikh activist Barjinder Singh; social justice activist Sunil Kumar; Dalit activists Rattan Paul, Paramjit Kainth, and Surjit Bains; Indian Rationalist Society leader Avtar Gill; East Indian Defence Committee members Harbhajan Cheema and Parminder Kaur Swaich; communist activists Kulwinder Singh, Rakesh Kumar, Shahnaz Nighat, and Navtej Johal; Radical Desi cofounder Parshotam Dosanjh; and the publisher of Alameen Post newspaper Jaffer Bhamji, who is also organizing an event for Asifa at Riverside Signature Banquet Hall in Surrey on Monday at 6:30 p.m., where Teesta Setalvad is going to speak.
Later, the participants held rally outside the library carrying placards asking for justice for Asifa and raising slogans against the forces that are trying to shield the accused.