Kathua rape case: Eight-year-old Bakarwal girl's death exposes fault lines in Jammu and Kashmir's polity and social construct

Lawyers wanted the government to hand over the rape and murder case of 8-year-old nomad girl, to CBI. Her death has had Jammu and Kashmir on edge since last month.

Sameer Yasir April 15, 2018 22:44:04 IST
Kathua rape case: Eight-year-old Bakarwal girl's death exposes fault lines in Jammu and Kashmir's polity and social construct

Jammu: Lawyers in Jammu roamed the streets to enforce a strike against the Jammu and Kashmir government headed by Mehbooba Mufti's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is in coalition with the BJP. Among their other demands, the lawyers wanted the government to hand over the rape and murder case of the eight-year-old nomad girl, to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Her rape and murder has had Jammu and Kashmir on edge since last month. A chargesheet was filed by the state police's crime branch on Monday.

The minor was abducted, raped and murdered in Rassana village in Hiranagar tehsil of Kathua district in January. The body of the girl, from the Bakarwal community, was recovered from Rassana forest in Kathua on 17 January, a week after she went missing while grazing horses in the forest area.

On Wednesday afternoon, starting from the Jammu airport to Gandhi Nagar, in the heart of the winter capital, angry protesters, backed by the BJP and other parties, burnt tyres in the middle of roads and patrolled the city to enforce the strike. Several protesters were carrying bamboo sticks.

Kathua rape case Eightyearold Bakarwal girls death exposes fault lines in Jammu and Kashmirs polity and social construct

File image of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

"We will never trust a government led by a Kashmiri, even if its partner is the BJP," 33-year-old Vishal Dogra, a protester who was joined by lawyers on the road few hundred meters from the airport, told Firstpost. "We want the Rasaana case to be handed over to the CBI."

The issue that brought Jammu to grinding halt on Wednesday has failed to evoke outrage in the country. The rape of the eight-year-old nomad girl who, according to investigators, after being drugged and raped repeatedly inside a temple in Rassana village of Kathua district, a Hindu majority district where nomads have lived in peace for decades, has also exposed faultlines in Jammu and Kashmir's polity.

The victim's family, like any other Gujjar nomads in the region, spend summers crisscrossing the mighty Himalayan mountains with their flock of livestock: herding sheep on their lush green meadows, camping along fresh water streams and selling goat and buffalo milk. As winters set in, they descend on the plains in Jammu, a climatically warmer place during the period of intense chill and snow on mountains.

“She fell prey to a conspiracy hatched for months by Sanji Ram, the custodian of the temple. And in this horrifying story, a place of worship was used for the heinous crime,” a crime branch official in Jammu told Firstpost.

Ram, allegedly, used everything at his disposal — money, politicians and religion to subvert investigations by the crime branch. Allegedly, he also bribed the police and the university officials in Uttar Pradesh where his son is studying. His son, now in custody, arrived from his university to rape the minor girl, according to the chargesheet. But the agitators in Jammu have turned a blind eye to these grave charges.

As the protesters' crowd swelled, emboldened by the response the president of Bar Association of Jammu, Bopinder Singh Saluthia, who is spearheading the agitation, increased the number of demands. He was addressing protesters, many of whom wore saffron headbands while chanting ‘Bam Bam Bole' and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai'.

"We are the same people who did not allow Mehbooba Mufti and Farooq Abdullah to leave the airport in 2009," Saluthia told the gathering which was received by loud cheers. "We need to drive out Rohingyas from our land. If we can, we will get weapons and bombs. If they have courage to stop us, let them use police and CRPF to stop us,” Saluthia said before handing over the mic to another speaker.

Kathua rape case Eightyearold Bakarwal girls death exposes fault lines in Jammu and Kashmirs polity and social construct

Cartoon by Manjul

At the heart of the ongoing agitation in Jammu is the mistrust cultivated for decades by the politicians of two culturally distinct regions. The seeds of hatred are sown so deep that it has almost created an unbridgeable gap between the two regions. The case of the 8-year-old girl in Kathua, like many similar attempts in recent years, has highlighted the divide between the two regions of the conflicted state; one, a Muslim majority area fighting for an independent homeland and a Hindu majority fighting for its total integration with India.

This is the divide that the father of incumbent chief minister, late Mufti Mohmmad Sayeed who died in office, envisioned to bridge by allying with a Hindu right wing party and allowing them to come to power. Today, the bringing together of "north pole and south pole" (Mufti’s own words), has become a taunt for his party and his daughter. “Every day we are bridging that gap between Kashmir and Jammu,” Ashok Kaul, the state spokesperson of the BJP, told Firspost. “These people who are protesting on the streets are the same people behind the miseries of this state.”

If one pays attention to the demands of the protesters one will see it's a dangerous show of majoritarianism and absolute contempt for law. For days, no one, not even the Jammu-based media, reported the story in Rasana village. It was only after two state BJP ministers addressed the protesters waving tricolor in support of the accused surfaced in social media that the media in Srinagar woke up to the story.

The spokesperson of the ruling PDP Rafi Mir said that the gap which exists between the two regions has to be bridged at every cost. “We have to make sure people in Jammu will respect their own institutions rather than seeking a probe by central agency,” Mir said. “Those people who are protesting on the streets are actually trying to communalise the incident,” he added.

The problem has reached to a level where the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court had to direct police to provide security to a woman lawyer, who is pursuing the case of the nomad girl, after she was threatened by members of her own community. Deepika Singh Rajawat, said she was threatened by the president of Bar Association Jammu, for defending the victim. She said he used derogatory language against her and threatened with “dire consequences”.

“Only a weak argument can led to this kind of threat,” 38-year-old Rajawat said.“They said if you don’t stop, you will be shown the way. They can do anything and I feel my life is at risk.”

The state Congress believes the strike call has no logic. G M Saroori, a senior Jammu and Kashmir Congress leader told Firstpost that there were forces inimical to peace among the protesters who want to start an agitation on the backs of the peace loving people of Jammu, and make it a Hindu versus Muslim issue. “The rape is a crime committed by maniacs and those involved, regardless of their religion, should not be spared,” he said

"I am appalled. I am ashamed, they should be ashamed. If she doesn't get justice it is slur on humanity,"Davinder Singh Rana, National Conference leader from Jammu told Firstpost. "They are using religion not only to defend the rapists but divide people too."

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