An Indian woman who's leading a fight for justice for the family of an eight-year-old victim of gang rape and murder in Kashmir was honoured at a community event in Surrey on June 24.
Deepika Singh Rajawat is legal counsel for the family of Asifa Bano, a Muslim nomad girl who was abducted by Hindu extremists in January. The horrific crime was part of a conspiracy to create fear in the minds of Muslims and force them to flee Kathua region in the Indian-administered area.
The body of Asifa, as she's know by in India, was later found in a forest. The forensic evidence and police investigation established that she was held captive for several days inside a temple, sedated, and raped before being murdered.
The story did not end there. The arrests of the suspects, including a special police officer, sparked angry protests from those with allegiance to India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party.
They wanted those arrested to be released. So much so, they hoisted the Indian national flag during a march in support of the alleged perpetrators.
Rajawat has been facing threats on social media for standing up for Asifa, whose brutal rape and murder caused worldwide outrage. There have been angry protests in Canada, too.
In addition, Rajawat has also faced hostility from many male lawyers, including those defending the accused.
She was in Surrey to attend an annual community fair organized by Trinjan, a progressive group of women that's been active in the South Asian community for many years. Amy Ghuman Sara, who has been instrumental behind Trinjan, is known for raising awareness for gender equality.
Rajawat told Straight that she has been subjected to character assassination and is distraught by an attempt to communalize the issue in the name of Hindu nationalism. She insisted that she is also a proud Hindu, but her brand of Hinduism teaches discipline and compassion whereas those who are supporting the accused have been using abusive language against her on social media.
“All I am fighting against is the crime committed against a poor girl, not against any community.”
Rajawat asserted that she believes in the Indian constitution, which is based on the principles of secularism, and therefore cannot hold onto her religion when it comes to her duty. She added that nationalism does not demand that people who indulge in such heinous crimes should be supported.
“What happened to a Muslim girl today can happen to a Hindu woman tomorrow.”
Rajawat hopes that the justice will prevail even though the prosecution is under lot of pressure.
Thanks to the efforts of the civil society, the trial of this highly sensitive case has been transferred outside Kashmir to ensure neutrality. It's progressing in the neighbouring state of Punjab.
Rajawat says that the fight is not over yet as the matter has been completely politicized in a highly polarized environment.
She demanded that Indians abroad break their silence over ongoing atrocities under a right wing government in India.
“When people remain silent, bad things grow," she said.