Kathua rape case: Lawyers' bandh call brings Jammu to a halt, rights' activists fear communalisation, delay in justice

The lawyers made rounds on the back of trucks, carrying the Tricolour and bamboo sticks. They were accompanied by workers of political parties, and whenever they saw a vehicle plying on the roads, they asked the driver to get off the road. The strike in Jammu was called by Kathua Bar Association and Jammu Bar Association against the state police crime branch, which is probing case of 8-year-old *****, who investigators say was sedated, raped for days, tortured and then murdered.

 Kathua rape case: Lawyers bandh call brings Jammu to a halt, rights activists fear communalisation, delay in justice

Lawyers protesting in Jammu. Image courtesy: Sameer Yasir

Sanji Ram, a retired official of the revenue department is believed to have masterminded the heinous crime to create fear among the nomad 'Bakarwal' (goatherd) community in the village so that they could be pushed out. He is the custodian of the temple where the girl was allegedly held in captivity.

On Wednesday morning, lawyers in black coats and white shirts were seen stopping vehicles, shutting down shops in Old City and Gandhi Nagar, Dogra Chowk, Kathu and Samba, and closing the National Highway connecting Jammu with New Delhi.

"We called for a strike because the crime branch officers handling the case are from Kashmir, and they don’t have a good track record. That is why we want a CBI inquiry", said BS Salathia, president, Jammu Bar Association.

Himanshu Sharma, a lawyer based in Kathua, who was part of the protests against the crime branch, told Firstpost the Bar members wanted the real culprits caught and hanged. He said their demand of handing over the case to CBI is genuine, and that there was no problem when Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti similarly asked for a CBI probe in the 2009 Shopian rape and murder case.

“We have four demands,” Sharma said, “We want a CBI inquiry, we want the Rohingya Muslims to be thrown of Jammu, Nowshera should be declared a district, and the minutes of the meetings of the tribal department—held with Mufti—should be struck off, because they are anti-Hindu.” The only two organisations that declined to support the bandh are Kashmir Transporters Welfare Association and Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We will protest till these demands are not met”, Sharma said, adding almost all the areas where the Bar called for a bandh had been successful.

Rakesh Gupta, president, Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the issues raised by Jammu Bar are sub-judice and have no relevance when a high court judge is monitoring the crime branch investigation. “She was a minor girl and brutally murdered. Those who committed crime should be put behind the bars. We don’t support any criminal", Gupta said. “We worship Lakshmi and Durga. We cannot communalise rape and murder of 8-year-old girl *****. It’s a heinous crime. The perpetrators, be it Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, whoever they are, should be punished”, he added.

On Monday, lawyers attempted to prevent the crime branch from filing chargesheet in the case. After 82 days of painstaking investigation, a special team of the crime branch has made a case of conspiracy, kidnapping, wrongful confinement, gang rape, murder and destruction of evidence against the accused.

Investigators said the kidnappers strangled the victim. ***** went missing from her home in Rassana village in Kathua on 10 January and her body was found on 17 January. Sanji Ram, his son Vishal and minor nephew, Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma of Hiranagar police station, sub-inspector Anand Dutta, head constable Tilak Raj and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian, have been named in the chargesheet by the crime branch.

Ram organised a rally under the banner of 'Hindu Ekta Manch', a right-wing group, after the policemen were arrested. The protesters flew Indian flags and two ministers of Jammu and Kashmir government participated in a rally to demand the release of the accused. Dutta, Raj and Verma have been accused of destroying evidence, including washing the victim’s blood-soaked clothes. The Jammu and Kashmir Police lodged an FIR against the lawyers for obstructing the filing of the charge sheet, SP Vaid, the Director General of Police, said.

Tribal rights activist, Talib Hussain, who was initially arrested by police for protesting against the murder and blocking the highway, said it was sheer “hooliganism” by lawyers, first for protesting against the filing of chargesheet, and then calling for a bandh to mobilise the majority community against tribals, who have been living alongside Hindus for decades. He said the lawyers want to shift the case to CBI to shield the culprits.

“It is nothing but the politics of communalism”, Hussain told Firstpost. “Now, the political players have become part of it. They will make it a political issue and in all this justice will be delayed for the victim”.

Updated Date: Apr 15, 2018 22:54:10 IST