BEHIND THE shrill show of support for the accused, the campaign against J&K Police’s Crime Branch, and demands for the case to be handed over to the CBI, the gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old girl has cleaved open several faultlines in the state. Hindu versus Muslim. Hindu-majority Jammu-Kathua-Samba-Udhampur versus Muslim-majority Kashmir valley-Chenab valley-Pir Panjal.
The most strident voice among them all has been that of the Hindu Ekta Manch, an outfit formed to “demand justice” for the accused and whose members cut across party lines. From a BJP state secretary to a Youth Congress leader, from an “election agent” of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to Panthers Party leaders.
The Indian Express accessed a government report that names key supporters of the Manch, and their political affiliations:
Vijay Kumar, president, Hindu Ekta Manch, and state secretary, BJP, set up the Manch, campaigned against the Crime Branch probe and alleged that it is “being influenced by the other community”.
On March 1, two senior BJP ministers in J&K, Forest Minister Lal Singh and Industries Minister Chandar Prakash Ganga, attended a Manch rally, where they supported demands for the case to be handed over to the CBI. The ministers were accompanied by BJP MLAs Rajeev Jasrotia and Kuldip Raj, representing Kathua and Hiranagar constituencies in the Jammu province, respectively.
When contacted, Kumar, a lawyer from Hiranangar, said: “We are not defending those arrested, but only asking for a CBI investigation to ensure a fair enquiry”. Alleging that the eight arrested were tortured and witnesses tutored, he claimed that people in Rasana, where the murder took place, and nearby villages were living in terror as police were “picking them up at will”.
Kumar said that although the BJP was part of the government, the Crime Branch was under the Home Department headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. “They always have a Kashmir-centric agenda,” he said, referring to the Crime branch and PDP.
Others with BJP links: Sudesh Kumar of Bhaiya, Hiranagar, is a property dealer and mandal president; Bhagmal Khajuria of Satura, Hiranagar, is a former sarpanch, businessman and close supporter of Lal Singh; Ravi Sagotra of Hiranagar is a party activist; Yash Bharti of Chadwal, Hiranagar, is a mandal president; Prem Nath Dogra of Kathua, a private contractor, is the party’s district president and; and, Sudesh Kumar of Kattal Brahmana, Hiranagar, a businessman, is a party worker.
When contacted, Sunil Sethi, BJP’s chief spokesperson in J&K, said: “We have no understanding with Hindu Ekta Manch, nor we are supporting them. Vijay Sharma has not consulted the party nor are we associated with him on the issue. The BJP deputed two ministers who assured that they will talk to the government to refer the matter to the CBI. But this was deliberately projected as us supporting the rapists. That is absolutely wrong. If the investigation is proper, the accused will get punished. The CBI will not spare the accused. If you get Crime Branch to investigate and elicit statements of witnesses by torturing them, who is going to be benefited except the accused?
Kant Kumar, secretary, Hindu Ekta Manch, is a Congress leader and former sarpanch. B S Salathia, president, Jammu Bar Association, is spearheading demands for a CBI probe. Salathia denied being a member of the Congress. “My affiliation is only with Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. I worked for him as his chief election agent during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls,’’ he said.
Others with Congress links: Romi Sharma of Chhan Dityal is a Youth Congress president in Hiranagar. When contacted, Sharma, a shopkeeper, denied any association with the Manch. Pankaj Sharma is the Youth Congress president Kathua, and a private contractor. Sharma denied having ever met any Manch leader. Yakesh Singh of Chandwan, Hiranagar, is a former sarpanch associated with the Congress, and an insurance agent.
EXPLAINED | A chargesheet, forest land and a divide in Jammu
When contacted, J&K Congress president G A Mir said: “We want justice for the girl. Only one person from Congress had participated in the rally organised by Hindu Ekta Manch, a sarpanch from Hiranagar. We issued a showcause notice to him and expelled him. The Bar Association president has no affiliation with the Congress. Why hasn’t action been against two ministers who openly supported those who committed this heinous crime?”
Azad was not available for comment.
Yashpal Kundal is a former Samba MLA and state president of the Jammu Kashmir National Panthers Party, which has supported the Manch. Along with party chairman Harshdev Singh, Kundal sat on a dharna with a group of Manch women who held a fast at Kootah Tuesday. “The local people have been harassed by the Crime Branch under the pretext of investigation and many children are not returning home from the houses of their relatives,’’ claimed Kundal.
Others from Panthers Party: Satish Kumar of Dayalchak, Hiranagar, is a district president. Robin Sharma of Kathua, a property dealer who also owns a paramedical college in Kathua, is a district president of the party.
Jat Ram Sharma, Kathua district president, VHP. “I support the Manch as a Hindu. The girl should get justice, but there should be a CBI enquiry to ensure that no innocent is framed. The government is responsible for creating doubts as it first got the case investigated from police, handed it to the Crime Branch and then called officers from Kashmir to investigate,” said Sharma.
Gian Singh Pathania of Kathua is VHP’s in-charge for Samba and Kathua. He is a property dealer and president of Ex-Serviceman War Widow Welfare Association in Kathua. Bishan Bharti is president of Arya Samaj Kathua. Surinder Bazaz is RSS district leader and president of a Kathua traders’ body.
Among the others backing the Manch’s demand for a CBI probe is Anil Andotra, president, young lawyers association, Kathua. Incidentally, lawyers in Kathua had tried to prevent Crime Branch officers from filing the chargesheet in the case at the local court.