After the police charge-sheet into Kathua rape and murder case involving an eight-year-old nomad Muslim girl revealed chilling details, a barrage of reactions seeking the severest punishment for the accused is pouring amid the escalating attempts to communalise the issue.
The kind of rowdy support sprouting for the rape accused, accomplices, and the ‘mastermind’ of the Kathua rape and murder case at the moment might be the sign of the telling times, warns a mental health specialist.
Lately after the Kathua Bar Association ganged up against the Crime Branch sleuths by attempting to block the charge-sheet in the rape and murder case, many such concerns sprang up. The protesting lawyers were denounced for speaking “the language of Sanji Ram”, the mastermind named in the chargesheet, by demanding a CBI probe into the case.
“Such rowdy behaviour is bound to have an impact on the society,” warns Dr Arif Maghribi, a Srinagar-based medical community psychiatrist.
A quick look into the details reveals that the crime was committed with full patronage of the mastermind Sanji Ram, a retired revenue official. Over the years, Ram had created his ‘terrorist’ cult image in the Muslim Bakerwal community against whom he “would often poison the ears”.
Despite being in custody along with his accomplices at the moment, Dr Maghribi says the mastermind seems to have already achieved his motives.
“Sadly,” the psychiatrist says, “even if the culprits are punished, the fear psychosis will persist in the society, especially in his target community.”
This is exactly what Ram wanted to achieve, as per the CB charge-sheet. Only the severest punishment can help the society to overcome from the chilling impact now, the doctor seems to suggest.
“It’s more about nipping the evil in the bud,” Dr Maghribi says. “The basic issue as to what makes a person criminal needs to be addressed. There is a need to dig into the lives of accused; see what all went wrong with their upbringing and address the same to avoid further such damages.”
In backdrop of the CB-prepared crime profile of the juvenile-turned-adult perpetrator, Dr Maghribi’s ‘nipping the evil in the bud’ statement calls for larger action.
The felon son of a peon, Shubam would take alcohol, cigarettes, gutka and other intoxicants to keep himself afloat. He had been expelled from Modern Public School Sikdi Hira Nagar because of his unruly behaviour with girls of his school, the charge-sheet reads.
“Fed up”, his family had sent him to stay at his uncle Sanji Ram’s place where he used to take care of his uncle’s cattle.
The charge-sheet reads that he had met the victim around eight times when she would inquire about her horses.
On January 10, when her family and community went haywire after she went missing, she had met Shubam, in the forest area, near Bahari Balish tree. He asked her to accompany him saying that he would help her in tracing out her missing horses.
“Around 6.30pm, he took her to his Uncle Sanji’s shed for keeping the cattle where he gagged her with a handkerchief and also tied her hand with a rope which was already lying in the shed,” he had confessed as per the challan.
As gruesome as it can get, he had tied her with the drawstring of her very trouser. Then he had gone to his home where from he had gotten some food for her, again gagged her and went back. This became his routine till January 16 on the evening of which he had told her that he will drop her back home. However, on the way back, he had attempted to rape her.
The little girl had said she would narrate the ordeal to her family. Threatened by the consequences, the charge-sheet reads, he had strangled her “with a chunni that was worn by her.”
Blood-mixed-spitting oozed from her mouth and thereafter he took her in his lap to another place and threw her on the ground where he hit her head twice with a stone, reads the challan. Subsequently, he waited for 10 minutes and the left for home.
He would allegedly take her out in the fields discreetly in the late hours of the night for attending nature’s call and wash her private parts with his hands using water from the hand pump. He would also give her Milky Way toffees.
On January 19, Shubam was arrested by the police and was sent to a juvenile home.
“Unfortunately we don’t have Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) in J&K,” says advocate Syed Faisal Qadri. “Otherwise this was a fit case to be tried under POCSO wherein it would call for the maximum punishment of 10 years. Here, at the most, they can get a punishment of 7 years in jail.”
After the Crime Branch took over the case, it was revealed that the little girl had become a victim and “soft target” of hatred against her community. “At least two among the accused are believed to have held personal grudges against the Bakarwal community,” the charge-sheet reads.
CB has named eight persons accused in the case, including Shubam, his 60-year-old uncle Sanji Ram, his sister, son, another man and police officials including two special police officers, Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar (directly involved), Hirangar station house officer, Anand Datta, and head constable Tilak Raj, accused of helping to cover up the crime after taking Rs 4 lakh as a bribe.
At a small distance from the Press Colony, Srinagar where the justice campaign for the Muslim nomad girl is being regularly held, the well-known human rights defender Khurram Parvez sees a larger plot in the act which has emboldened many to make it a communal issue.
“It’s not only a crime perpetrated against a minor girl,” Khurram says, “but an attempt to create fear amongst the minority nomadic Gujjar population so they would migrate.” This is exactly what the CB investigation has revealed.
Before the Kathua lawyers would gang up in support for the rapists and the mastermind lately, BJP ministers including forest minister Lal Singh and commerce minister Chander Prakash Ganga had supported the accused by attending the Hindu Ekta Manch, the pro-rapist outfit, in Hira Nagar.
“It’s important to know why they are doing it,” Khurram says. “What does their support mean? Could it be possible for a political leader to be involved in the planning of this crime because they did come in the scene later on?” By the BJP’s conduct and other right-wing elements in Jammu, the rights activist says, the case is getting complicated and politicised.
“The judges and lawyers were not accepting the charge-sheet for about 6 hours according to the reports. In this scenario, what can one expect from the judiciary? Is someone trying to create polarization in Jammu before elections of 2019? This may be more than what it looks like.”
It had started on January 4, the charge-sheet reveals, when Sanji Ram induced the idea of taking revenge from the Muslim community.
On January 7, Ram had asked his nephew Shubam to kidnap the minor girl, while Deepak Khajuria (police official) and his friend Vikram had purchased 10 tablets of Epitril (0.5 mg), an anti-seizure drug using a psychiatric prescription.
On January 8, Deepak had pushed Shubam in abducting the victim, “assuring him help pass the board examination.” On January 9, Parvesh Kumar (another police official) went to Hira Nagar and purchased four Manar tablets, a kind of sedative. On January 10, they catch hold of her and rape her. They had taken her to the temple, leaving her locked inside, covered in plastic mats. They kept raping her.
Meanwhile, the challan reveals, victim’s parents had reached the temple to inquire from Sanji Ram about their missing daughter. He had dodged them by saying that she might have gone to some relative’s house. Around noon, Deepak Khajuria and Ram’s nephew went inside the temple and drugged Asifa again. At about 5.00 p.m. Shubam went to the temple again to ensure girl was unconscious.
He then called Ram’s son Vishal in Meerut telling him about the abduction in case he wanted to ‘satisfy his lust’ who on January 12 had reached Rasana from Meerut. Shubham administered 3 more sedative tablets to Asifa while police and her family kept looking for her.
On the same day, the girl’s father Mohammad Yousuf lodged a complaint in Police Station Hira Nagar, saying that she had gone out to graze horses at 12.30 and was seen with the horses at 2 on the same day. The horses had returned back at 4 in the noon. However, Asifa was nowhere to be seen.
Yousuf had informed the police that he suspected that ‘some miscreants might have kidnapped her.’ FIR No 10/2018 U/S 363 RPC was registered and the investigations had begun.
In the meantime, head constable Tilak Raj demanded money from Ram for investigating officer, Sub Inspector Anand Dutta against the promise of saving him. Ram’s sister, Tripti Devi later hands Rs 1.5 lakh to Tilak Raj. The two have been friends from school days.
On January 13, Vishal and Ram’s nephew raped the minor again in each other’s presence while she lay unconscious. Shubam had drugged her again before locking the temple to make sure she stays unconscious.
In the evening, that day, Ram had directed Shubam to kill the girl to achieve the goal of the whole conspiracy. He, along with Parvesh and Vishal had taken her out of the temple to a nearby small bridge while Deepak followed them there. She was again gang-raped by Deepak and Shubam.
After that, the two killed the minor girl by strangulating her using her own Chunni. Shubam had hit her twice on her head with stone to make sure she is killed. They took her body back to the temple again for final disposal later, while Ram kept a vigil outside.
On January 15, plans to throw the girl’s body into a canal in Hira Nagar failed as the driver named Kishore had not come with a vehicle as planned. Ram had directed for her body to be dumped in the jungle nearby fearing people visiting the temple might notice.
Shubam threw the girl’s body in the jungle as Vishal kept a watch and both went home. Vishal later had left back for Meerut.
On January 17, the minor’s body was found. Head Constable Tilak Raj had demanded of Ram that the accused be handed over to police as the Bakerwals intensify the agitation.
Ram had given him another bribe instalment of Rs one lakh for the investigation officer Anand Dutta.
“The very motive behind crime reminds one of the 1947 Jammu,” says Khalid Bashir, a noted author-historian. “But I am not sure whether children as young as this unfortunate Muslim girl were victimised then, or not.”
Such crimes, he says, were however committed to change the demography of that place.
“Today different people are living there,” he says. “The abductions and killing had taken place in large numbers. About half a million people who survived chose to leave the place/ were removed forcibly.”
But looking at it from a larger context, once can find a pattern of impunity in it, Khurram says.
“In many cases when army committed similar crimes, police could not make them accountable,” he says. “And therefore it became a culture. The Government of India is responsible for this to happen. Look at Kunan Poshpora, Pazipora or Shopian rape cases, the state allowed for impunity to flourish. Had police addressed such crimes earlier, today this girl in Kathua would not have faced this. These crimes will be repeated till the accused is not punished.”
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