The gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua wasn't like the other horrific cases that callous netas often attribute to raging hormones. It was a rape inflicted with purpose, to fulfil an agenda, instil fear and drive away a few nomad families from their lands.
The Kathua rape here was deliberate and used as a weapon.
The minor’s rape was plotted for months. The characters, target and place of crime was chosen carefully to avoid suspicion. Deep down, it was committed to send out a chilling message to Bakerwals — move out or it will get worse.
And once the barbarity culminated with the murder of the girl, at every level, money, muscle, politics, region, religion, polarisation and even flags were used to subvert justice. Worse, some cops, legislators and even ministers played wilful partners to help fulfil the communal agenda.
A look at the charge-sheet filed by the Crime Branch gives gory details about the alleged detailed scheming by Sanji Ram, a former revenue officer.
The 60-year-old is alleged to have seen to it that the rape and murder cases were buried. He allegedly offered bribes on multiple occasions to police, used BJP MLAs and senior ministers to throw their weight and put pressure on the Mehbooba Mufti government to go either slow with the probe or transfer it to CBI. The leaders called the crime branch investigations as “unfair and going against the nationalist forces”.
They openly supported the Hindu Ekta Manch, the front which mobilised support against the Crime Branch and used the Tricolour to make their point.
Investigation points to out how the girl was held captive, drugged, beaten up inside a temple and repeatedly raped. ‘Invites’ to rape the minor were also sent allegedly by a juvenile accused who abducted the girl in the Rassana jungle to his cousin who arrived in Kathua the next morning from Meerut to violate the girl.
The captors starved and sedated the minor before strangulating her with a chunni. Her head was banged against a stone to snuff out her last breath.
Ram, the main accused and custodian of the devisthan, his nephew and an SPO named Deepak Khajuria reportedly had regular feuds with the Bakerwals.
On the fateful day, January 10, the victim was taking horses for herding as usual, but when she did not return home, the family started searching. Later, they reported the girl’s absence to police, who searched the area but failed to trace the child.
On January 17, the girl’s mutilated body was found in the bushes with the same clothes she was abducted in. Her face and head were slightly bloated and body parts, including genitals, bore marks, said the girl’s aunt who gave her the ritual bath.
The family cried for help, but literally ran against a wall to get justice till the Crime Branch started the investigations, which was also monitored by the court.
Investigation suggest the crime was committed with an aim to displace the minorities from the Rassana hills. Political parties, members of the Bar, civil society groups and a few pro-Hindutva social outfits in Jammu have been vociferous about "deliberate demographic changes" in the Jammu region.
Talib Hussian, a tribal leader in Jammu, fears that the harassment of Gujjars and Bakerwals will continue in the run-up to the General Elections next year. He says there is “huge planning” underway to drive the nomads out. He has been at the forefront of demanding forest rights for the nomads in line with Central Forest Rights, but the BJP has opposed it more than once in the Cabinet and Assembly.
It is for this reason that the friction between majority and nomads has accentuated. These days, the two communities don't see eye to eye. The population of the tribals is less than 4 percent in lower Jammu plains where these experiments, according to Hussian, are on.
The Ekta Manch group that alleged harassment of the majority community by the Crime Branch officials had earlier taken out a march that was supported by senior ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga.
The manch had marched with the Tricolour in their hands in defence of the accused.
When protesters hit the streets, Minister of State in PMO Jitendra Singh, who is also the local MP, did not extend a word of sympathy for the victim. He, in fact, said there was no harm if the case was handed over to the CBI.
When the Crime Branch took over the case from the Special Investigation Team and Kathua police, there was every effort made to botch-up the investigation.
Heeranagar police, who initially investigated the case, have been accused of destroying crucial pieces of evidence. The blood-soaked clothes of the girl were washed just hours before they were sent for forensic test. A Sub-Inspector and constable, now arrested, had allegedly destroyed evidence. Additionally, they have been charged with taking bribe from Ram for subverting investigations and to protect his son and nephew.
Initially, the hospital, too, delayed the post-mortem report, allegedly on the instructions of the higher ups. Police laxity to trace the girl when the missing person’s report was lodged initially, cost the Bakerwal family dearly. Police failed to protect the crime scene and it was the investigators' plain luck that they could lay hands on some crucial bits of evidence.
As far as lawyers in Kathua go, they blocked the court on Monday and stalled the filing of chargesheet by many hours. Their counterparts, the Bar Association in Jammu, gave a bandh call on Wednesday, but the Chamber of Commerce refused to abide by it. Also the chapters in Pir Panjal and Chenab delinked from the Bar.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has been under fire for not proactively pursuing justice in the case. She also failed to act against the two BJP minister who joined the rally in defence of the accused. If coalition compulsions prevent her from doing so, she should speak to the central leadership.
She has promised justice to the minor’s family. Now she needs to walk the talk.
(The writer heads JK bureau of CNN News 18 group)