“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Martin Luther King).
A 8-year-old, Gujjar girl of Rassana village of Hiranagar, Kathua, was brutally raped, murdered and was thrown in a nearby forest in the month of January, 2018. Her blood and mud soaked body was recovered after five days, leading to a suspicion that the girl had not died in an accident but has been brutally murdered. A large group of people-from Gujjar community- protested against the brutal killing. Besides the protest, the other sections of the society condemned the act and demanded a fair inquiry and stern punishment for the accused.
The chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, also condemned the act and promised that the matter will be dealt with fair justice. The case was handed over to crime branch of Jammu and Kashmir police and it was found in the initial stage that the local police at Kathua had tried to destroy all the evidences regarding the case. The crime branch arrested special police officer of J &K police, Deepak Khajuria and his associate Surinder Singh finding their involvement in the hegenious crime. The arrest of the accused police men resulted in the resentment from Hindu radical groups, thus forming a group in the name of Hindu Ekta Munch to protest against the victim and in favour of the accused rapists and murderers. The newly formed group took out a rally, waived the National Flag and chanted the slogans of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai and jai Shree Ram’ in favour of the accused rapists.
Coincidently, another rally was carried out with the same agenda in favour of Shambuji, who killed and burned the Muslim Bengali Labour in Rajasthan. The rally was supported by Vishwa Hindu Parishad calling it an awareness program against the love jihad. But, in case of minor girl, it was surprising that senior leader of BJP and Congress were hand in glove in favour of rapists and made hate speeches against the Muslims especially the Gujjar’s (Bakarwals) and Rohiyga Muslims, who lived in some parts of Jammu area. The intention of the crime committed by eight members of the Hindu community, according to the charge sheet, was to scare away the Muslim community (Gujjar’s) from the region.
Revising the Case
After three months, the Bar association of Jammu region stopped team of crime branch from filing the charge sheet against the accused. It was inhuman and shameful act by the lawyers of Kathua and then bar association of Jammu gave a call of Jammu Bandh on April 11 demanding the transfer of case to CBI. The call of Jammu bandh was given by the president of Bar Association of Jammu, B. S. Salathie, and was also supported by the political leaders of the Jammu region to defend the accused and to divide the people in the name of religion. However, the trade unions and the bar association of Pir Panjal and Chenab valley defied the call and condemned the act. From Bollywood stars to cricketers, from politicians to common people, everyone came out in favour of the minor girl and raised the question on the ruling party’s agenda of Beti Bacho…. Beti Padao. Besides that, some ruling party members like V.K Singh and Meenika Gandhi also tweeted for the justice of minor girl. Newspapers, National TV channels and Academicians also condemned this shameful act and raised the demand to amend the protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO 2012).
Who is the victim?
A minor girl, daughter of Muhammad Yusuf Pujwala and Naseema, who belonged to nomadic Muslim community. By profession, they are shepherds, rearing their animals in Himalayan Mountains. The family was residing 72 Km away from the Jammu region. According to a family member, on 10th January, minor girl went to nearby forest, routinely, to bring home the horses. However, that day horses returned but not minor girl. After the day passed, the family members felt concerned about her return. Yousuf, along with some neighbours went in search of her. They went deep into the forest but could not find her. On 12th January, the family filed a complaint in the police station and according to yousuf, the police did not hear the plea instead, alleged that she must have eloped with a boy. As soon as the news of minor girl’s disappearance spread, the Gujjar community staged a protest and blocked the national highway and forced the police officers to launch a massive search. The community started protesting against the delay in police action. The police used Laathi charge against the protesters. Five days later, her body was found in with torture marks in her body. According to her mother, her legs were broken, her nails had turned black and there were blue and red marks on her arms and fingers.
As per the investigation, minor girl was confined to a local temple for several days and were given sedatives. She was gang raped for several days, tortured and then finally strangled to death. She has been hit with a stone on the head. Later, it was found that Sanji Ram, a 60-year-old retired government officer hatched the conspiracy in the crime along with police officers like Surendra Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Deepak Khajuria. Besides that Sanji Ram’s Son Vishal, his nephew and his friend Parvesh Kumar were also found accused in the case. As per the investigation, the accused men wanted to terrorise the nomadic community who are using public and forest land for grazing their animals. Most the people of the community memners alleged that it was all done for the purpose of land. According to the lawyer of the accused Ankur Sharma, the nomads were trying to alter the demography of Jammu region, where Hindus are in majority. He also alleged that such nomads are encroaching our forests and water resources. The most disturbing act after minor girl’s murder was that a Hindu Right wing activists did not allow burial in the same area and the family members had to walk several miles to bury her in another village.
A senior journalist, Harpeet Singh Seethi, who is residing in Kathua, gave details of the case, said that it was a scuffle between Gujjars and the Sanji Ram, which happened few months ago. The Hindu Brahmins, actually, wanted the Gujjars to leave the area to which the nomadic community resisted. The Hindu’s were beaten by the Gujjar’s (Bakerwals). However, Sanji Ram wanted a revenge for the act and he conspired with his nephew, Deepak Khajuria, who is working in the police department to avenge the Gujjar’s. A plan was hatched to terrorize the Gujjars who were residing in the Hiranagar Constituency and were using Government land for grazing their horses and buffalos.
Notably, soon after minor girl went missing , the family members lodged an FIR, which was not reported. However, after the protests and subsequent blocking of the road, a special investigation committee was setup by SSP Kathua Sulmain Chowdhary to handle the case. The members of the investigation committee were Anand Dutta, who took bribe of 4 lakh from Sanji Ram to divert the case along with head constable Tilak Raj, the accused Deepak Khajuria and SPO Surendra Verma. All the members washed out the evidences and tried to divert the attention from the case. However National Conference and Congress Members also raised this issue in the state assembly and later on CM Mehbooba Mufti handed the case over to Crime Branch. Soon after the arrest of Deepak Khajuria, section 144 was imposed in the district to avoid any protest. An organization was formed with the help of RSS and other conservatives under the banner of Hindu Ekta Munch (HEM) under the leadership of Vijay Kumar who was the member of BJP. A rally was carried out in support of accused rapists to put pressure on the government. In the rally, two BJP Minsters Chowdhary Lal Singh (minister of Forest) and Chander Prakash Ganga (Minister of Industries and Commerce) along with BJP Legislators Rajeev Jasrotia and Kuldip Raj made speeches and Chowdhary Lal Singh challenged the section 144. After that rally, another Bike rally, holding national flag, came out is support of the accused. The most shameful act is that women of Hindu Ekta Munch also took out a rally and went for hunger strike in favour of the rapist. The case got the media attention, when crime branched filed the charge sheet against the accused, which was resisted by some lawyers of Kathua.
Massive outrage drew on social media with people from across the globe demanding justice for the girl. Similarly, the civil society of India came out in support of minor girl, various candle light marches were conducted, protests were held in different states, students of universities, colleges and schools took out protests in support of the victim forcing PM Narender Modi to break the slience: Modi said criminals have no place in a civilised society and promised that the culprits would not be spared and complete justice will be provided to the victim. Reacting to the statement, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said that “we are thankful to PM and we wish that he would convert his words into deeds”. Besides that, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Minister of foreign affairs Sushma Swaraj and minister of women and child development Manika Gandhi assured that justice would prevail in minor girl’s case.
Besides that Gujjar and Sikh organizations also took out separate marches seeking death penalty to those who committed rape and murder of minor girl. Both the BJP ministers who participated in the HeM rally and used demeaning words for the victim had to resign from their posts. The need of hour is to amend the rape laws so that the accused in such heinous crimes are dealt with severity.
—The author can be reached at [email protected]