Kathua rape case: BJP leader, Hindutva hardliners among those at forefront of protests defending accused
A look at the ideological positions of those who led protests defending the Kathua rape accused reveals their role in spreading communal hatred.
The men who began an agitation defending the accused in the rape and murder of a nomad girl in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua, have been either associated with the BJP, or espouse the belief that Hindus have been discriminated against by governments led by Muslim chief ministers.
The protests that followed the filing of a case against 8 people, including some police officials, were spearheaded by a BJP state secretary. Subsequently, other community groups and political parties also joined them. The agitation took up a number of issues apart from seeking a CBI probe in the case — including discrimination against Hindus in terms of representation in the Legislative Assembly and in jobs. These issues were used to fuel the unrest.
Lawyers in Jammu have continued to strike work, seeking that the CBI should investigate the Kathua rape case instead of the Crime Branch. In Kathua, protesters have demanded that the Crime Branch chargesheet be held as invalid.
The agitators have been holding public rallies against the Crime Branch officials, terming them tainted. They have even organised community meetings of influential Hindu groups to rally support.
A look at the ideological positions of those who led the agitation reveals that they have played an active role in spreading communal hatred. They have also tried to shut down markets to seek a CBI probe in the case. Even as trade associations and some influential community groups lend support for the CBI probe, here are some of those who spearheaded the agitation.
The president of the Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM), Sharma is also the state secretary of the BJP. He launched the HEM after the death of the nomad girl, contending that the accused were being framed by the Crime Branch. The BJP didn’t act against him or the two ministers who participated in the protests — Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga — until they resigned on Friday. Sharma, a practicing lawyer has been organising protest rallies in Kathua near the home of the victim, seeking the release of the accused. The BJP had been seeing this agitation as a new issue which would help it gain Hindu votes, before the Congress slammed it for supporting the rape accused.
Sharma told Firstpost that he sympathised with the girl and the family but was concerned that the probe was motivated and driven by anti-Hindu sentiment by the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. He said that the “mood of people” reflected this concern. “The officers who probed the case have been charged of rape and murder,” he alleged. A probe by the CBI, he said, will unravel the truth. He said that the people of Jammu will continue their protest until the demand is met. He has been regularly attending BJP meetings, including a state working committee meeting which was held earlier this month at RS Pura in Jammu. However, he said that he was not invited by the BJP in a meeting on Saturday which was headed by party national general secretary Ram Madhav in Jammu after the resignation of two BJP ministers. He has been leading the protests against the police and authorities regularly in Jammu.
Professor Hari Om
A former Dean of Social Sciences of Jammu University, Hari Om was always at the forefront of agitations that sought to pit Hindu majority Jammu areas against the Muslim-majority Kashmir region. As a spokesperson of the BJP, he was a staunch opponent of political parties of Kashmir, including the NC and PDP. He has denounced them for discriminating against Jammu in jobs and representation in Assembly seats. He contends that the Hindu majority areas of Jammu, which have a higher population and larger area than Kashmir, have been given less seats in the Assembly. He was expelled by the BJP in November 2015, as he has been openly criticising it for giving in to the pressure of alliance partner PDP to go soft on separatists.
Hari Om has been writing in favour of a CBI probe in the rape and murder of the 8-year-old girl. He also took part in the protest rallies of the HEM. He, however, said that the politics in the state has turned so brazen that “even the justified demand of a CBI probe in the case is being seen a communal agenda.”
A former additional advocate general and the president of the Jammu Bar Association, Slathia had earlier rallied lawyers first to seek the deportation of Rohingya Muslims from Jammu. More recently, he sought that the probe in the Kathua rape case should be handed over to the CBI. On his call, lawyers have struck work in the courts. He was associated with the Congress in its legal cell and remained the chief election agent of former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. However, he had resigned as the Additional Advocate General during the 2008 agitation that was started against the transfer of land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) in Kashmir. Congress spokesman Ravinder Sharma said that Slathia had been active in the agitation that brought down the government of Azad. He said that he was not associated with the Congress and “due to his legal background worked as an election agent of the former chief minister.”
Sheikh Shakeel, a prominent advocate from Jammu, described Slathia as a “ fundamentalist and an opportunist.”
After a series of meetings, the Jammu Bar Association decided to hold a strike on 11 April in Jammu to seek handing over the Kathua probe to CBI, and to demand that the Rohingyas should be deported.
Gulchain Singh Charak
A former Congress minister, Charak wields considerable support of the Dogra Hindus of Jammu. As the president of the Dogra Sadar Sabha, Charak was approached by lawyers and civil society members to lend support to the 11 April strike call of the Jammu Bar Association.
He favoured the call and later issued a statement that the Jammu region was being discriminated against. He also took part in a meeting which was held to chalk out the strategy for enforcing the shutdown in Jammu. Charak, who has been expelled by the Congress, said that he supports the agitation of the lawyers as it was about the issue of Jammu getting a raw deal.
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