A piece of legislation protecting children from any harm, abuse or exploitation seems to be losing its credibility by allowing politicians to communalize rape and murder of a minor girl only because the accused and the victim come from different faiths. The reference here is to the gory and brutal rape and murder of Asifa Bano of Kathua and its politicized aftermath. The politico communalization of what is otherwise a straight forward case constitutes not only a travesty but also a travesty of justice.
Before dwelling on the nature of the case and its ramifications, a digression, which throws into relief the nature of the Juvenile Justice Act, is warranted here.
The Act in contention, which was enacted in Jammu and Kashmir in 2013, is being implemented through the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS). In lieu of this, Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB)and Child Welfare Committees (CWC) have been constituted which will be ready anytime soon to cater to children in need of care and protection and those in conflict with the law.
Now, returning to the odious issue of the rape and murder of the eight year old Bakerwal girl, Asifa Bano, it does not only expose the insensitivity of some politicians towards the nascent legislation which does not allow anyone to see the case through the prism of religion, caste or colour, but also seeks to look at the child protection issue though the prism of a juvenile justice system.
In cases, as the one in contention, the accused should get maximum punishment which POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) makes possible as the law ensures protection of children from sexual abuse and maximum punishment to the guilty. Unlike other regions of India, the law, unfortunately, is not applied in J&K, making it difficult, at times, for the judiciary to deal with people found guilty in sexual offenses with people below the age of 18 years. Laws like POCSO are major deterrents for offenders but those supporting the accused should be brought to justice too, so that offenders are saved for mere votes or the communal nefarious designs of some. The rape and murder of a minor nomad girl testifies how some politicians demean the judicial and security system merely for their political gains.
Asifa, a minor girl, had gone missing on the 10th January from Rasana village when she was herding horses. On 17th January, her body was found from the woods of Hira Nagar with visible torture marks on her body. A woman who gave her last ritual bath confirmed that she had been brutally tortured and raped which was later confirmed by the post mortem report. It was actually the state legislative assembly session, which was going on, that focused attention on this savage crime and received hype; otherwise, the issue would have been hushed up same way as others. It is pertinent to note here that the accused, according to reports, had been part of search team during the initial stages of the investigation.
At first, a minor boy was apprehended for allegedly having committed the crime. However, in hindsight, it appears that this may have been in the nature of a cover up. That is, a deliberate attempt to make use of legislation meant for juveniles to let the real perpetrator go scot-free.
The Juvenile Justice Board, which is actually supposed to deal with children in conflict with law, was in the making at the time of crime and also due to non availability of a principal magistrate making the JJ B non-functional. In the absence of JJB, the case was tried in CJM court. The Chief Judicial Magistrate ordered eight days remand to the minor accused, who was sent to an observation home. However, due to a sustained campaign from various political groups, the case was transferred to the Crime Branch and a special investigating team was constituted with an officer of the rank of SP assigned to conduct further enquiry.
On 19th January, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, taking to twitter, wrote, ‘It’s tragic that @mehboobamufti didn’t see fit to come to assembly and assure people of quick action in this case’. The Chief Minister had assured though that guilty will be punished. Congress too joined the bandwagon and condemned the gruesome killing and rape of the minor Muslim girl from Kathua.
Sources in the government privy to the case believe that such cases do happen with nomads in areas close to forests in Jammu. But, these go unnoticed. The source attributes such cases to the growing radicalization among the Hindu youth. “Jammu region is getting communalized and poor Muslim nomads become the casualty.”
Deepak Khajuria, 28, an SPO posted at Hira Nagar, was arrested by the Special team of the Crime Branch reportedly confirmed that the intention of the crime he committed was to create fear among the nomads, so that remain away from Kathua, which is a Hindu dominated area. In a gruesome irony, Khajuria was among the policemen who searched the area after Asifa’s father lodged a missing report with the police in Hira Nagar. It was again the accused SPO who cane charged the Bakerwals who protested and demanded for the fair probe in the case.
Gujjars and the Bakerwal nomads are most often Muslims which makes them vulnerable to such issues. They become soft target to the vile and rabid intentions of people like the accused. Similar attempts are being made to create fear among the Rohingya refugees by calling them supporters of militancy and so on.
A right-wing organization, the Hindu Ekta Munch, came out to openly support the accused SPO and demanded his release who had been confronted with clear evidence of the crime allegedly to have been committed by him. He has reportedly given details as to how he would use intoxicants to keep Asifa unconscious for hours. Reports suggest that the chemist from whom the drugs to disorient and drug Asifa had been brought has been also identified.
The entire series and sequence of events, since the day Asifa’s body was recovered, suggests that that the justice system in this part of the world is subservient to public perception(s) generated through the process of protests and condemnations. If sources are to be believed, Asifa’s case is not a one off one. Cases of this nature have happened in the past but these did not garner public attention as there were no condemnations, protests or rallies supporting the accused.
—The author is a Senior Journalist. He can be reached at: [email protected]