Sitting on a raised cemented platform under the huge Banyan tree at Kutha morh in Kathua district — on April 27 — was the wife of Sanji ram, the alleged conspirator in the rape and murder of the eight-year-old Bakarwal girl.
She was joined by the mother of Parvesh, another accused in the case. The women were flanked by the other villagers, both male and female, in the ‘fast-unto-death’ protest to demand the transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Carpets were spread on the pedestal and the women could be seen reading Hindi newspapers. Down the pedestal were men sitting and discussing the news of the day.
The protest site, Kutha morh, is one kilometre away from Rasana village where the villagers reside. It is the same place where the grotesque rape and murder of the Bakarwal child took place.
Misinformation and Exaggeration in the Case
“I don’t know what CBI enquiry means, but I have heard from the villagers and others, and they say it daily, that my son and the other accused are falsely implicated,” said the mother of Parvesh, when asked what she knew about the CBI and Crime Branch enquiries. Another woman sitting beside her added, “They have deliberately picked our sons to defame our village. This is the work of the Mufti government.”
“We don’t trust the police, nor the state. There have been three SITs (Special Investigation Team) and then the case was transferred to Crime Branch, which further called three officers from Kashmir to investigate the matter. Are our Jammu officers incompetent? It is a planned conspiracy,” shouted Amit Kumar, who runs a shop in Rasana village and has been regularly joining the protests from 1 April.
Investigation by Newsclick confirms the account presented by locals to be an exaggeration. Initially, the investigation was at Hiranagar police station by the SHO of Hiranagar. Then it came to light that they were trying to destroy the evidences and the SHO was subsequently suspended. Then the Samba DySP, Adil, was put in charge of the case. He held Sanji Ram’s nephew to be solely responsible. This led to protests by the villagers and the victims’ families as they could not believe that a minor could be the only perpetrator in this case. To assure them that the case was being fairly investigated, the case was transferred to the Crime Branch, which formed an SIT to investigate the matter.
The SIT of Crime Branch included DSP Nisar Hussain Shah, who belongs to Poonch district of Jammu; DSP Shwetambiri Gupta, who belongs to Jammu; Kunal Krishan Gupta from Udhampur district of Jammu division; Urfan Wani from Doda district of Jammu; Ramesh Jhalla, SSP Crime Branch from Jammu province; and Peerzada Naveed, SP Crime Branch (Kashmir) was called in to assist in the case with his investigative experience — which means that only one senior officer was called in from Kashmir.
Background and Internal Conflict
On 12 January, an eight-year-old girl from the Bakarwal community was reported missing by her parents. A few days later, her dead body was found in the forest. Crime Branch investigations into the matter revealed that the girl was held captive inside a temple, sedated and repeatedly raped before being murdered. The Crime Branch had filed a charge sheet against eight persons in the case, which was initially obstructed by a few lawyers from the Bar Association of Jammu.
However, the case reflects not only the sexual violence but also the grim reality of the communal divide in the state, which was further aggravated with the rape case.
The formation of the Hindu Ekta Manch to provide political patronage to the accused has further convinced the locals that the Mufti-led government is trying to provide “administrative immunity to Gujjar and Bakarwals.” The locals have been drawing on false news reports in the newspapers and politically motivated lies spread by the likes of the Hindu Ekta Manch.
Even the demand for transferring the case to the CBI was heavily influenced by the community, caste, politics and religion of the accused and the victim.
“We have been living together since ages. We don’t have any problem with Gujjars and Bakarwals. We don’t believe in communalisation. It’s the media which is giving it a communal overtone,” said Raj Khajuria, another villager.
“The Jammu and Kashmir government had released a circular saying that the Bakarwals should be given the custodian land. We are against that and we won’t let that happen at any cost,” he added.
“We have been living in Rasana for years, why can’t they allot land to us? Why will the government allot land to Bakarwals, who only live for three months? And we have been protesting for that. Mehbooba can’t do anything. We will come on the roads if the land is allotted to Bakarwals. We won’t let anyone change the demography of Jammu,” Khajuria went on.
Proving their patriotism over and over again, the Bakarwal community is the one which has always aligned with India, be it in 1947 or the 1965 war. Also known as the ‘first line of defence’, the community has willingly helped the Army in carrying out operations.
The Gujjars and the Bakarwals, who constitute 12 percent of the population in the state, are always on the move. In summers they move uphills and in winters they move towards the plains.
But the communities have always been under attack by the majority community, and is mostly under-represented in the government — for which they have been protesting for long.
“The problem is the absence of amendments in the J&K Forest Act and the absence of tribal affairs policy, which has been in the waiting for a long time. On the other hand, the BJP has been opposing these laws,” said Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, political analyst and the executive editor of Kashmir Times, speaking to Newsclick earlier.
“Over the last few years, the Hindu right-wing forces have tried to spread a lot of hate propaganda against the Gujjars. They are trying to create stereotypes that they are people who are land-grabbers and they are encroaching upon the land and that they need to be evicted. But these nomads are always on the move. At the same time, nobody is talking about the big land chunks held by private holdings. Also, the BJP is trying to revoke Article 370, and is saying they cannot extend any law until 370 is revoked,” Bhasin had said.
Read: Decoding the Mystery Behind the Brutal Rape and Murder of Minor Bakarwal Girl in Kathua
According to the charge sheet filed by the police, the reason behind abducting the Bakarwal child was to dislodge the Bakarwals from the village by creating fear among them. The motivation behind scaring the community was the general impression that Bakarwals were trying to occupy the ‘custodian land’ and that would result in demographic change in the state. ‘Demographic change by the Bakarwal community’ is also one of the points the Bar Association of Jammu is protesting against.
Politics Driven By Right-wing Hate
According to the medical reports, the Forensic Laboratory in Delhi has confirmed that the Bakarwal girl was sedated and raped. But the people of Rasana refuse to believe that the girl was raped.
“She was not raped. How can you say she was raped? Show us the medical reports? Show us and then we will believe. Media is propagating false news,” said villager Bishen Das Sharma, while passing on the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran to a fellow villager.
Dainik Jagran was caught disseminating false information to mislead people in this rape and murder case.
Read: Exposed: Dainik Jagran Posts Fake Story on Kathua Murder-Rape Case, Peddles the Hindutva Cause
Since the appointment of Lal Singh as the Forest Minister, the state has witnessed a series of eviction drives against the ‘encroachers’ (who, according to the BJP and its fringe affiliates, are Gujjar-Bakarwals). The ex-Forest Minister was also quoted as saying, “If encroachment is not removed, no one will be worse than me.”
“BJP leaders (Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chandar Prakash Ganga) were helping us. Mehbooba Mufti even made them resign,” added Rasana resident Sharma.
Ex-Forest Minister and BJP leader Lal Singh had rallied in support of the accused. He was seen reiterating his demand for the CBI probe in the case.
After the sacking of Singh, a case on charges of favouritism has been registered against him. He has been accused of supplying more than permissible limits of Cutch wood to factory owners. The charges were raised after the state government raided three factories in Jammu.
The chilling narrative of the rape and murder case, and the politics around it, reflects the deep-seated communal divide which is being fanned by the politicians for their own benefit. The politicking and the misinformation spread over the rape and murder of a child reveals the inhumane side of Jammu province, which has for long taken pride in calling Jammu city as “the city of temples”.
Reminds one of the famous song written by Faiz and sung by Iqbal Bano:
Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garaan
Rooi ki tarah udd jaayenge