Kathua rape: Solid case built by Jammu police against accused offers hope that justice will be served
The charge sheet filed in the Kathua rape and murder case appears to be fairly watertight and should stand up in court with the case likely to be fast-tracked by the Mehbooba Mufti government
The horrific gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl child in Jammu is being equated with the gruesome sexual assault and killing in a Delhi bus a few years ago along with other ghastly crimes committed across the country against women including minors.
Because both provoked a public uproar, the Kathua case correlates with the involvement of a BJP legislator and his cronies in the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl and the murder of her father in judicial custody in Uttar Pradesh's Unnao district.
However, what happened to the eight-year-old girl in Kathua cannot be seen merely through the prism of the routine brutalisation of Indian women by sexual predators or political perfidy on display under Yogi Adityanath’s rule since it has a larger and darker dimension.
The fact of the matter is that unlike the horrors inflicted on the Delhi bus victim, Jyoti Singh, and other women and children over the years this was not a stray act of perversion. It was a cold-blooded act planned by former government officials and serving police officers wearing their religion on their sleeve.
They were later backed openly by members of the legal community and politicians belonging to a particular party once again in the name of a particular religion and even the national flag. More disturbingly, the entire motive of this ghastly crime appears to be the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim shepherd community of Bakerwals to which the little girl happened to belong.
There is also a sharp contrast between the strictly professional manner with which senior officers of the Jammu and Kashmir Police Crime Branch investigated the case in Kathua and the connivance of the state administration in Uttar Pradesh to protect the politically powerful from charges of rape and murder.
Despite the active participation of at least one police officer in the ghastly crime and several other policemen in the cover-up operation, the Jammu and Kashmir Police Crime Branch has not tried to protect its own but booked them in the charge sheet.
Led ably by Ramesh Kumar Jalla, Senior Superintendent of Police, J&K Crime Branch, Jammu division, the crime branch team has also stood firm in the face of a sustained agitation by lawyers, politicians and different sections of civil society in Jammu to let off the accused in the case.
In fact, had it not been for the painstaking investigation into the case by the Special Investigative Team (SIT) that resulted in a meticulous 11-page charge sheet the true story of why and how the eight-year-old girl was kidnapped and brutalised while grazing her horses in the meadow would have never emerged.
It was great detective work helped by some good fortune that led to the uncovering of the fiendish plot hatched by retired government official Sanji Ram who was also the custodian of a local temple, in collaboration with his juvenile nephew and special police officer Deepak Khajuria to rape and murder the minor daughter of a Bakerwal family to scare off the Muslim shepherd community from the region. They managed to solve the case despite the fact that the crime branch team was handed the case after quite a bit of the evidence was already destroyed by policemen in the local Hiranagar Police Station after being heavily bribed by Sanji Ram.
The charge sheet reveals in clinical albeit grisly detail the sequence of the eight-year-old girl's kidnap, repeated rapes and eventual murder followed by the various attempts to get rid of her corpse.
It paints a chilling picture of a place of worship being turned into a den of gang-rape of a little girl and the conduct of weird possibly Tantrik rituals by Sanji Ram, custodian of the temple. Most importantly, the crime branch investigation provides the motive for this appalling crime linking it to a calculated attempt by sections of the majority Hindu community in the region to drive away the Bakerwal shepherds.
Based on the confession of the juvenile nephew who was as at first being offered as the sacrificial lamb by other conspirators, corroborative interviews with more than a hundred others besides solid forensic evidence, the charge sheet appears to be fairly watertight and should stand up in court with the case likely to be fast-tracked by the Mehbooba Mufti government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi clearly worried at the kind of nationwide outrage unleashed by the Kathua horror has promised to punish the guilty. Yet, it will be difficult for him to walk away after merely doing so because the eight-year-old girl's ghastly fate cannot be divorced from the atmosphere of hate building up in the country in general and the demonisation of the Muslim community in particular.
The charge sheet in the Kathua case along with the slogans invoking “Jai Shri Ram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai” on the streets of Jammu in support of those charged with rape and murder have disturbing implications. These show that the mixing of religion and nationalism by political design or ideological prejudice can go to the extent of justifying such bestial behaviour towards an eight-year-old innocent girl.
Yet amidst the gloom spread across the land by divisive politics there are also a few good men and women — Jhalla and an intrepid lady lawyer Deepika Thusoo Singh (also known as Deepika Singh Rajawat) who is representing the victim's family despite threats from fellow lawyers to drop the case. Interestingly, both belong to the Kashmiri Pandit community which was the target of ethnic cleansing in the Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley a few decades ago. Still, they are fiercely committed to their duties as a policeman and a lawyer to see to it that justice is done without fear or favour. They may be the only hope we have to counter the alarming swell of hate and prejudice in India today.
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