Kathua rape case sparks rumours, polarisation as J&K Police marshals forensic evidence to nail accused

Editor's note: This piece contains graphic details. Reader's discretion advised.

Jammu: In Jammu, rumours and counter-rumours are swirling about the gruesome rape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakarwal girl in Rassana village of Kathua district.

The extent of polarisation can be gauged from the fact that the medical examination of her vaginal swabs, hair strands, and viscera are being subjected to different interpretations depending on which community the individual belongs to.

Forensic evidence

Four glass slides smeared with the deceased girl’s vaginal secretion were sent for examination to Mushtaq Ahmed Bhat, scientific officer who heads the Bio/Serology Division of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Srinagar.

Bhat’s report given to the Medical Superintendent, Government Hospital, Kathua on 30 January 2018, states specifically that 'no spermatozoa were detected on the exhibit M-01-/2018’.

Similar vaginal swabs of the deceased girl were sent to the Jammu Medical College and were examined by Dr Navneet Noz, a lecturer in the Department of Pathology. Dr Noz sent a report to the medical superintendent of the Government College, in which he stated that the 'hymen was not intact’. However, he did not elaborate on this.

Responding to this statement, Ankur Sharma — the lawyer defending the main accused Sanji Ram — has said that this could have been the result of horse riding. The Bakarwals are nomadic herdsmen who spend the winter months in the foothills around Jammu and migrate to the meadows of the Kashmir valley on horseback in the summer months.

Kathua rape case sparks rumours, polarisation as J&K Police marshals forensic evidence to nail accused

Protests after the Kathua rape case. File image. Reuters

However, Shah Mohammad Choudhary, a Jammu-based advocate said that Bhat's findings do not indicate in any way that the girl was not raped. Choudhary, who belongs to the Bakarwal community, is a member of the Jammu and Kashmir State Advisory Board for Development of Gujjars and Bakarwals. He is also related to the girl's family.

Choudhary pointed out, "According to medical toxicology, the life of a sperm is 48 hours. The FSL reports have confirmed that the girl’s clothes were washed by those who committed the crime. The Crime Branch has, in its chargesheet, stated that it has proof that the girl was both raped and murdered. Rather than politicise her murder, we must all work towards providing justice to her."

A report in The Indian Express stated that forensic officials received two hair strands with roots. One of them is said to have pinned the accused, while the other has matched with the deceased girl.

Commenting on this report, Choudhary said, "The girl’s hair was found in the temple located one-and-a-half kilometres away from the Rassana village. It is known to be a secluded place.’

However, Ankur Sharma questions this observation. He says that the devi sthal where the girl was reported to have been kidnapped and kept captive for a week, is a place where prayers were conducted at regular intervals.

"The devi sthal consists of one room. The festivals of Lohri and Makar Sakranti were held there and attended by a large number of villagers. Then how is it that this girl was not spotted by any of the attendees?" asked Sharma.

Lawyer for accused questions state government role

According to Sharma, there are key questions pertaining to this case which the state government needs to explain.

"Why were two SITs formed to investigate this case ? Why was the Jammu Crime Branch not allowed to investigate the case and why were officers from Srinagar brought in to investigate it?" Sharma asked.

A disturbing feature of this case, according to him, is that two of the officers who investigated this case and filed the chargesheet are "tainted" and have criminal charges against them.

Sharma also questioned Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s decision to hold a meeting this February, in which she directed that tribals living on forest land should not be evicted till such time as the government would form a tribal policy. "Due to this order, hundreds of acres of land was being encroached upon by this community," Sharma claimed.

Sharma also asked why the demand of the Hindu Ekta Manch for a CBI inquiry should be seen as being anti-secular. "During the last two decades, there have been several demands by different individuals and groups asking for a CBI inquiry. We want an organisation that is independent to probe this entire incident," said Sharma.

On the other hand, Choudhary lamented that this death was being used by political parties to polarise the Hindu and Muslim communities. "The 1931 Census clearly showed that 56 percent of Jammu’s population consisted of Muslims, the majority of whom later migrated to Pakistan. Today, the Muslim population in Jammu is down to 4 percent. And yet, we keep hearing about how the state government is trying to bring about a demographic change by bringing in more Muslims into this region," he said.

He further said, "I met the girl’s mother shortly after her body was found. She spoke about how she had just got her school uniform stitched. She was planning to take her to the market to buy her a pair of shoes and a new school bag, as she was entering Class III. Obviously, the family is devastated by the death. The mother told me that if her daughter had died of a snake bite or some other accident, she would have reconciled herself to her death. But the circumstances that caused her death have left her shattered."

Minority community unhappy over the stay on trial

If the town of Jammu is filled with acrimony over this case, the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to stay the trial and adjourn the matter till 7 May has also not gone down well with the minority community in Jammu.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has opposed the transfer of the trial, saying that the state has a different penal code. It has also contended that transferring the trial would inconvenience witnesses. The Union government is a respondent in a related petition and is seeking transfer of the probe to the CBI. This move has been opposed by the deceased girl’s family.

Indira Jaising, who appeared for the rape victim’s father before the Supreme Court on Friday, believes the demand for a CBI probe is being made to derail the good work done by the Jammu and Kashmir Police Crime Branch and is an attempt to prevent filing of the chargesheet in order to enable the accused persons to get bail by default.

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Updated Date: Apr 29, 2018 08:34:43 IST

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