Kathua rape case: 22-year-old who shares name with accused left reeling after social media backlash

Jammu: The Jammu and Kashmir Police may have arrested all accused, including Vishal Jangotra, in the henious gangrape and murder of a minor girl of the Bakarwal nomadic tribe in Kathua, but an innocent from the same area who happens to be his namesake has found himself the subject of scorn and abuse on social media.

Vishal Sharma, a 22-year-old from Kootah village in Kathua, was horrified when hate messages began pouring in on his Facebook account for a crime he had nothing to do with. Even his relatives called up to enquire if there was any truth to the social media post going viral.

Sharma later realised that the outrage was generated by his picture being posted, rather irresponsibly, along with the names and images of  the accused. By the time he realised what had happened, the post was circulating on social media.

 Kathua rape case: 22-year-old who shares name with accused left reeling after social media backlash

A post misidentifying Vishal Sharma as Kathua gang-rape accused Vishal Jangotra shared by India 360 FB page. Image courtesy: Arjun Sharma

Several Facebook pages have put up Sharma's picture (in place of Jangotra) along with photographs of other accused, including former revenue officer and Jangotra’s father Sanji Ram, SPO Deepak Khajuria and head constable Tilak Raj.

Sharma, who runs a canteen in a school, said that a photograph of him wearing a ‘tilak’ on forehead went viral on Facebook groups. “The person who did this did not even bother to check my full name. They must have only seen the ‘tilak’ and formed an opinion that I am the same Vishal who is accused in the rape case”, said Sharma. That he resides in Kathua only encouraged the culprit to ignore his last name.

The ghastly abduction, rape and killing of the 8-year-old has drawn condemnation from all over the country and abroad. Sharma fears that his photograph is being seen around the world. The crime occurred in January, but made headlines recently when a chargesheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir Crime Branch laid bare the gory details of the case.

Meanwhile, Vishal has deactivated his Facebook account. His father Omkar Dass, a daily wage labourer, said when they approached the local police looking to file a complaint, they were asked to approach Jammu's cyber crime branch. There, they were asked to report the picture to Facebook first, and register a case later, so that the person who circulated Vishal’s picture could be tracked.

“The crime has been committed by other persons and my son is being punished. His life has been ruined as he has been tagged as a rapist in a picture that is circulating across the country. People are looking at my son with suspicion”, said Sharma's father.

Police arrested Jangotra on 17 March reportedly with help of a selfie that he posted on social media. The police chargesheet claimed that Jangotra, who was studying in Meerut, came to Kathua only to rape the minor who was allegedly held captive for days.

Arun Pal Singh, who works for the development of football in Jammu and Kathua region and knows Vishal Sharma, who plays football, advised him to approach the police.

“I saw Vishal’s picture going viral on social media and visited his home. He was upset and angry over those who had used his picture. I asked him to visit the police so that the picture could be removed from Facebook”, said Singh.

Sub-inspector Gagandeep Singh of the Jammu cyber crime cell said he guided Sharma on how to go about tackling his case. “He can register an FIR at his nearest police station after which we will ensure that the culprit is identified. Once identified, the culprit can be put behind bars for three years. However, Vishal should report the matter to Facebook so that his pictures are removed immediately”, Singh said.

Arjun Sharma is a Ludhiana-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2018 16:07:22 IST