Content warning: This article concerns sexual assault.
Around 100 students were in attendance of a candlelight vigil held Wednesday night at the Silent Tree in honor of eight-year-old Asifa Bano, who was raped and murdered by eight men in Kathua, Jammu, India.
UC San Diego students Mannat Shukla, Sahar Zahraee, and Faraz Shaikh organized the vigil. As students arrived, they gathered in a circle around a poster board with a picture of Asifa. White roses and lit candles were placed in front of the poster. Shukla, the main organizer of the event and a member of the Hindu community, opened the event with a speech about the event itself before telling Asifa’s story.
According to BBC News, Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old girl of the Muslim faith and part of a Muslim nomadic community known as the Gujjar, went missing from her home on January 10 in the Jammu and Kashmir region of India. Asifa was found a week later in the woods near her home. The investigative report ordered by the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister stated that Asifa was kept in a temple, given sedatives, raped for days, tortured, and eventually murdered by strangulation and blunt force trauma to her head with a stone. The convicted men included a retired government official, four police officers, the government official’s son, the official’s nephew, and one of his friends—all of the Hindu faith. This is one of an increasing number of child rape cases that have been reported in India within the past year.
Shukla echoed the ideas of two men he spoke to: Ibrahim from the Muslim Community Center of San Diego and Head Priest Balarama from the Hare Krishna Temple of Miramar, who both condemned the act.
“Mr. Ibrahim said that when he left India a [decade] ago, it was not this intolerant,” Shukla said. “The violence against Muslims has risen and the death of Asifa is just an example of the hate and prejudice and a lack of morals that is taking over.”
Following Shukla, the floor was opened up to anybody who wanted to express their thoughts on the events surrounding Asifa’s death. Shafeen Pittal, a Muslim Student Association board member, was the first to speak and expressed the importance of community.
“It’s important to be socially conscious and aware about these incidents that you may not hear about as much on the media,” Pittal said. “It is incidents like these that further divide our communities, which is a tragedy in itself, as we should really be coming together and creat[ing] love and compassion.”
Once all who desired to speak were finished speaking, those in attendance lined up in front of the poster of Asifa and took turns lighting candles and writing notes around her image, such as “Rest in Peace Asifa” and “You will not be forgotten.” The vigil ended with a moment of silence in her honor.
The month of April is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Throughout the month, many people from around the country attempt to address and inform others about sexual assault, as well as make apparent the resources available for victims of sexual assault. Although April has ended, sexual assault awareness should not. If you, or somebody you know, is a victim of sexual assault, UCSD’s CARE at the Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) may be able to help you. CARE at SARC provides free and confidential services for victims of sexual assault. To schedule an appointment, you can call (858) 534-5793, or walk in Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Matthew Rom-Toribio is an Assistant News Editor at The Triton. You can follow him @MT2o.
May 3 5:15 p.m.: This article was updated to correct an error in Shukla’s quote.