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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 19 New Delhi April 28, 2018

Kathua Rape: A Tale of Savagery of the ‘Civilised’

Saturday 28 April 2018, by Arup Kumar Sen

What happened in the Rasana village of Kathua district in Jammu is an unimaginable tale of savagery. An eight-year old girl belonging to the Bakkarwal community, a nomadic Muslim community, was first gang-raped and then brutally killed.

The Bakkarwal community, who survive on grazing sheep, goats and horses, migrate with their flock to Kashmir and Ladakh in the summer and to Jammu in the winter, camping at forest sites they have used for centuries. Recent evictions have reportedly made the community fearful that the present State Government is planning to take away their traditional forest rights.

The body of the gang-raped and murdered girl was found on January 17, 2018, a week after she went missing while grazing horses in the village. Sanji Ram, a retired revenue official, is the main accused person in the case. Included in the list of the accused, among others, in this case of gruesome murder are a Sub-Inspector, two special police officers and a head constable.

The most awful part of the story is the formation of the Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM) on January 23, a week after the body of the victim was found in the forests of Rasana. According to a report carried in The Economic Times, the main accused, Sanji Ram, “was a founding member” of the Manch. The HEM organised a public rally demanding release of a special police officer, who is accused in the rape-and-murder case. Two BJP Ministers of the State were found to participate in the rally. The President of the HEM, Vijay Sharma, a practising lawyer, demanded CBI investigation into the crime and expressed lack of confidence in the Crime Branch of the State. To put it in his own words: “The Crime Branch which is investigating the case and is doing what the Mehbooba Mufti Government wants it to do is not the right cell to look into this crime”.

The professional integrity of the legal practitioners in Kathua/Jammu is completely at stake. An FIR is lodged against some lawyers of the Kathua Bar Association for “their violent attempt to stop the police’s Crime Branch to submit its chargesheet and produce the seven accused in the Kathua rape and murder case before the District Magistrate”. It is worth mentioning in this connection that the President of the Kathua Bar Association proudly claimed in a statement: “All the members of the Bar have strongly agitated against the presentation of challan (charge-sheet) by the Crime Branch in the Rasana case”.

The lawyers also tried to prevent a woman advocate, Deepika Singh Rajawat, to appear for the victim’s family. Within days of her decision to take up the case of the Bakkarwal girl, she began getting threats to stay away. To put it in her own words: “The president of the Jammu High Court Bar Association mistreated me. He used un-parlia-mentary language, and threatened me not to appear in cases during a strike by the lawyers.” In fact, members of the Jammu High Court Bar Association stayed away from courts for 12 days in support of their various demands, including that of handing over the rape and murder case of the Bakkarwal girl to the CBI.

Very recently, the Supreme Court reportedly took suo motu cognisance of alleged efforts made by local lawyers to obstruct the filing of a chargesheet in the rape and murder case of the Bakkarwal girl, and sought responses from the Bar Council of India, the State Bar Council, the High Court Bar Association in Jammu, the Kathua District Bar Association and the State Government by April 24.

What happened to the family of the victim girl? They left the village Rasana quietly a few days ago along with some other members of the Bakkarwal community. The predicament and pathos of the community are evident in the narrative of Amjad Ali, who left the village with the girl’s family: “The pressure was unbearable. We were getting threats, told that our cattle and houses would be burned down. How can we fight? What are we left with if our goats are killed? We are Bakkarwals. This is our livelihood. If they die, we die. We have already lost a child that was so dear to us.”

We do not know the language to address the pathos of the girl’s parents and the Bakkarwal community.

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