Politics over Kathua Rape-Murder leads to tension across Jammu

The brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl has polarised the normally peaceful town of Jammu, with the local Bar Association calling for a bandh against what it termed the “targeting of minority Dogras” while the state police lodged a case on Tuesday against lawyers who allegedly tried to prevent it from filing a charge sheet against the accused.
The high-profile case has even divided the state’s polity, with at least two BJP ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government questioning the role of the police.
The victim, who belonged to the nomadic Bakerwal Muslim community, had disappeared from near her home in the forests next to Rasana village in Kathua, 90 kms from here, on January 10.
A week later, her body was found in the same area, and medical examination pointed towards sexual assault.
During initial investigations, police arrested a juvenile. Later, the case was transferred to Jammu and Kashmir police’s crime branch with clear instructions from Director General of Police S P Vaid to catch the culprits, no matter how high and mighty.
Two Special Police Officers (SPOs) — Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar — and later, another five persons, including former revenue official and the alleged conspirator, Sanji Ram (60), who surrendered before the special investigation team, were among those arrested.
The crime branch team, which submitted a set of two charge sheets, faced a tough time when local lawyers allegedly tried to prevent them from filing the documents before the court yesterday.
Today, the police filed an FIR against a group of lawyers. “An FIR has been lodged against a group of lawyers who held protests and tried to prevent the crime branch officials from performing their duty,” a senior police official told PTI.
He said the lawyers had not been yet identified.
The Jammu Bar Association, on the other hand, alleged that minority Dogras of Jammu and Kashmir in Hiranagar were being “targeted” in the probe by the crime branch and called for a ‘Jammu Bandh’ tomorrow.
Political parties also traded charges over the handling of the case and the issue acquired a communal hue due to the alleged association of the accused with a right-wing group.
It was found during investigations that a group ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’, which was spearheading an agitation against state police’s probe, had also been opposing settlement of Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes in Kathua, an official said.
The matter escalated, when two BJP ministers in the ruling coalition — Industries and Commerce Minister Chander Parkash Ganga and Forest Minister Lal Singh hit out at the police for arresting “one or the other person at will”.
“We too want that the real accused are punished…We have heard you. We will not allow this jungle raj, under which they (police) are picking up people at will, to continue. What kind of investigation are they doing,” Forest Minister Lal Singh said questioning why the probe was not being handed over to the CBI.
The ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’, from which the BJP has distanced itself, had also taken out a rally holding a tricolour to press for their demands.
The incident and use of national flag had a evoked sharp reaction from Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who had tweeted: “Appalled by the marches and protests in defence of the recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag in these demonstrations, this is nothing short of desecration. The accused has been arrested and the law will follow its course.”
Opposition National Conference’s Jammu Province chief Davinder Singh Rana, an MLA, regretted that some political parties were trying to give a communal colour to a crime which was a “slur on humanity”.
“We have already demanded that the case should be shifted out of Kathua and a fast track court set up for a speedy trial,” Rana said.
The presence of BJP leaders and ministers at gatherings of supporters of the accused as well as agitations by lawyers has evoked sharp reactions with Congress and CPI(M) condemning the protest by some lawyers who attempted to prevent the police from filing a charge sheet.
Lashing out at the lawyers for the incident, Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief G A Mir described it as “politically motivated, obnoxious and a conspiracy to achieve something out of this heinous crime for those hindering the process of justice”.
CPI(M) State Secretary Ghulam Nabi Malik said vested interests were trying to derive political mileage out of a brutal and inhuman act.
National Conference General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar told reporters in Srinagar that it was unheard of in the history of the country that white-collar professionals come out in support of those accused of a heinous crime.
“It is a part of a deep-rooted and well-thought-out conspiracy to polarise and communalise the state along religious and regional lines. We will be watching the situation and thwart any such designs,” he said.
The court has fixed the next date of hearing on April 16 when the case will be committed to Sessions Court for beginning of the trial.