Crime in Kathua

The 15-page chargesheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Crime Branch on the abduction, rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua district is chilling. An unspeakably horrific crime has been overlain with an ugly form of communal politics, which has heightened the feeling of vulnerability among the Bakherwal nomadic community. The victim had been missing in Rasana village since January 10. On January 17, her mutilated body was found, bearing the marks of gang rape. This week, local lawyers tried to prevent the police from filing the chargesheet , and the Jammu High Court Bar Association called for a bandh on Wednesday demanding that the investigation be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. By all accounts, the demand owes less to any faith in CBI impartiality, and more to the ongoing attempt to influence the police’s investigation that has led to the arrest of eight men, including some policemen charged with destroying evidence. The chargesheet lists as the main conspirator the caretaker of the temple in Rasana where the victim was allegedly held, and threads together the sequence of events. The insinuation that a local police force that reflects the multi-religious composition of the State cannot be entrusted with a case in which the victim is a Muslim and the alleged accused are Hindus must be strongly resisted.

It is a shame that the State government, a coalition of the J&K Peoples Democratic Party and the BJP, has been so feeble in criticising the sectarian undercurrents. Protests in Kathua have been going on for months, amidst allegations that innocent people are being framed and demands that one of the arrested police officers be released. An organisation called the Hindu Ekta Manch too populated the protests and two BJP ministers from the State government were present at a rally in support of the accused. The Gujjar-Bakherwal community’s sense of isolation, as the dead eight-year-old is sought to be defined by her ethnic and religious identity, is especially heightened given the backdrop of drives to evict them from what they say are their traditional camping sites in forests. One line of inquiry is that the motive for her abduction and assault was to instil fear among the nomads in pressing for their rights to the forests and commons. But while it is understandable that the nomads are feeling the brunt of the intimidation and it is vital to address their larger anxieties, to superimpose the crime on the tussle over forest rights would be to diminish the brutality brought upon the little girl. The investigation must be pursued for the hate crime it is. It does not just tie in with her community’s rights — along with the Unnao rape case in U.P., in which the victim’s father died in police custody this week, it shows how loaded the system is against those seeking justice.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2022 2:23:53 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/crime-in-kathua/article59780713.ece