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Kathua rape-murder case: Demand for CBI probe continues to polarise J-K; nation shocked by gruesome incident

The chilling details of Kathua rape and murder case has sparked outrage and led to large-scale protests in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The case took a communal turn in Kathua, where an outfit called Hindu Ekta Manch was set up by politicians in support of the accused.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 12, 2018 10:23:30 pm
Kathua rape-murder case: Tests confirm victim held in prayer hall, was sedated The storeroom where the victim was allegedly kept, in Kathua near Jammu. (Express Photo: Nirupama Subramanian)

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Thursday condemned the Kathua rape-murder case calling it a crime against humanity. Stating that the crime cannot go unpunished, Gandhi also slammed the local BJP leaders for defending the accused. “How can anyone protect the culprits of such evil. What have we become if we allow politics to interfere with such unimaginable brutality perpetrated on an innocent child,” Gandhi said on the alleged gangrape and murder of the eight-year-old that sparked outrage and led to large-scale protests in the state. He will also hold a candlelight march at India Gate in New Delhi, at midnight today, to mark his protest.

Earlier in the day, BJP leader and Minister of State for External Affairs General V K Singh said the country has failed the eight-year-old girl and that she will not be denied justice. Singh is the first person from the government to respond to the incident.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti also said that she also seeked “exemplary punishment for those responsible for a crime whose brutal savagery has shamed humanity.” Adding that she will not let another child suffer this way, Mufti on Twitter said, “We will bring a new law that will make the death penalty mandatory for those who rape minors.”

What is Kathua rape-murder case?

A Bakherwal Muslim girl went missing from her house in Rasana in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua on January 10. She was allegedly gangraped repeatedly inside a “devsthan” (prayer hall) and kept sedated for hours. Before being killed, she was raped again. According to the chargesheet filed by police, minutes before she was about to be killed, one of the accused asked the killer to wait so that he could rape the girl one more time. She was then strangled and hit on the head twice with a stone — “in order to make sure,” she was dead. Her body was found dumped in the forests nearby, seven days after she went missing.

People hold placards at a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl, in Kathua, near Jammu and a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh state, in New Delhi (REUTERS)

An FIR was lodged by the girl’s father on January 12 and police arrested a member of Dogra community in connection with the case. After allegations of a cover up by the Bakherwal community surfaced, the case was transferred to the Crime Branch. According to the chargesheet, the accused include retired revenue official Sanji Ram, his son Vishal and a minor nephew, Rasana resident Parvesh Kumar, Special Police Officers Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar, and Assistant Sub Inspector Anand Dutta and Head Constable Tilak Raj. Dutta and Raj were arrested on charges of attempting to destroy evidence by washing the blood-stained clothes of the victim. Infact Vishal was specially called from Meerut for “satisfying his lust” after the girl was kidnapped.

Sources said the relative had all along been vocal against the Muslim Bakherwals staying in the forests on the outskirts of Rasana, whose 13 households are all Brahmin. Some 20 Bakherwals had bought land from local residents to build pucca houses around Rasana. According to sources, the Crime Branch’s investigations found that the girl’s murder was allegedly part of a conspiracy to force the Bakherwals to move out of the area.

Why are the lawyers protesting?

The case took a communal turn in Kathua, where an outfit called Hindu Ekta Manch was set up by politicians in support of the accused. Among those who backed the Manch were Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, two BJP ministers in Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s Cabinet. Terming it “targeting of minority Dogras,” the Jammu Bar Association also jumped in defence of the accused. They also alleged that the police were carrying out the arrests under political pressure and demanded a CBI probe. The protesters have also demanded a rollback of a purported decision by the state government on Gujjar-Bakherwal rights to forest land, alleging a conspiracy to change the demography of Jammu.

The lawyers also tried to block the Crime Branch from filing the chargesheet against the accused. The protesting lawyers, led by the president of Kathua Bar Association Kirti Bhushan Mahajan, demanded a medical examination of the accused, while some of them accused an official in the Crime Branch SIT of being a rapist. Mahajan stated that they do not intend to interfere in the judicial process, but were pointing to a certain lacuna in the chargesheet. For example, he said, the Crime Branch did not get the accused medically examined before bringing them to court. Moreover, their attempt to present the challan in a discreet manner after court hours raised doubts, he added.

Also read | Kathua rape-murder case gets Hindu-Muslim twist, J&K police say let two Sikhs be prosecutors

Kathua chargesheet: In J-K child gangrape, rituals, a chilling invite and a police cover-up On Monday, lawyers tried to stop filing of chargesheet.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association had also called for a Jammu Bandh on Wednesday demanding CBI to take over the case. Saying that the association wants a fair and impartial probe, Bar Association of Jammu President B S Salathia said that those with Kashmir-centric mindset are giving their demand a communal shade. “Kashmir-centric mindset tried to give our agitation for CBI probe a communal colour. They were trying to divide Jammu on communal lines. It is their conspiracy. It was portrayed as if we are against justice for the girl. We demand CBI probe for justice to the minor, and those involved should be punished,” he said.

Salathia said the manner in which the special investigation team (SIT) was set up by the government, raised “deep suspicion and fear (in the minds of minority Dogras of the area) that the probe would not be impartial”. “Boys were picked up. They were harassed and tortured by the crime branch to give statements before a judge under Section 166 of CrPC,” he said.

Salathia also denied reports that the eight-year-old girl’s lawyer was being threatened for representing her. “It’s incorrect. Nobody threatened her from appearing in Kathua rape case. She used to be member of our association but 5-6 yrs ago, she tried to drag one of our senior members into a controversy and was expelled,” he said.

Political reactions

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Thursday said proper procedures were being followed and investigations were being fast-tracked to ensure justice for the victim. “The Law will not be obstructed by the irresponsible actions & statements of a group of people. Proper procedures are being followed, investigations are on the fast track & justice will be delivered,” she tweeted. Meanwhile, a special meeting of PDP leaders has also been convened on Saturday to discuss the case and the role of PDP’s alliance partner BJP. BJP has been largely silent over the incident.

Sources in the PDP said that party would chalk out its strategy to deal with situation arisen out of the rape and murder. “It is a grave issue and has a tendency to polarise the state,” said a party leader. “Our Chief Minister Sahiba has already said that she wouldn’t yield to any pressure and that justice would be delivered to the minor girl. The whole saga would be discussed at the meeting and we will plan our strategy,” the leader added.

J&K Law Minister Abdul Haq Khan told The Indian Express: “We will do everything to provide justice to this daughter. We will ensure that those who raped and murdered her are punished.’’

Congress leader Kapil Sibal took a jibe against Prime Minister Modi and questioned his silence over the incident. “No time for ‘upavas’ dear PM . Speak up: the very soul of womanhood violated at Kathua and Unnao. Was ‘Beti Bachao’ yet another slogan?” Sibal tweeted on Thursday.

Also read | A chargesheet, forest land and a divide in Jammu

Protesters in Jammu during a shutdown Wednesday. (AP Photo)

Meenakshi Lekhi, BJP MP supported the demand for a CBI probe. “If there’re issues which are not meeting the eye then severe punishment shud be given to those who did such an abhorrent act, there should be no false prosecution and accused shouldn’t escape,” she said.

National Conference (NC), the main opposition party in the state, also demanded transfer of the case from Kathua to any other court for a free and fair trial in the backdrop of lawyers’ protests. While appreciating the police’s role, former chief minister Omar Abdullah sought action against the two BJP ministers without naming them. He tweeted, “Action by @JmuKmrPolice against the Kathua mob masquerading as lawyers let’s not forget the mob were emboldened by the actions/words of two BJP ministers in @MehboobaMufti’s cabinet. What about action against them?’’

In a bid to check further polarisation in the state, the J-K Police, sources said, want the Crime Branch case to be represented by Bhupinder Singh and Harminder Singh. Sources said the police “want to have prosecuting officers from their own ranks” but from a “neutral faith” to avoid further communal division. “So much communal politics has been played in Jammu over this case that the entire atmosphere is polluted. Those who are campaigning in favour of the accused have been questioning the Crime Branch probe only on communal grounds,’’ a police officer said.

J-K DGP S P Vaid said that the police has no objection if the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua district is assigned to the CBI but it is as competent as any investigation agency to handle the case “If we can we fight terrorism and stone pelting, why can’t we carry out a professional investigation. Our officers are on deputation with the CBI,” Vaid said backing the crime branch team that investigated the case and arrested eight persons.

Film industry appalled by Kathua rape

Inhuman, disgusting and chilling is how the Indian film industry described the Kathua and Unnao rapes and demanded the government to act swiftly against the perpetrators. Personalities such as Sania Mirza, Akshay Kumar, Farhan Akhtar and Abhishek Bachchan took to social media to condemn the two brutal incidents that have shocked the nation. Celebrities such as Sonam Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ranvir Shorey and Richa Chadha criticised the politicisation of the crimes in the name of religion.

(With agencies inputs)

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