The Rasana Tragedy

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In the gut-wrenching trail of the kidnapping, gang-rape and murder of the minor Bakerwal girl from Kathua, the most heinous was the motive. The upper castes in Jammu’s Hindu heartland, cutting across the political divide, rallied behind the rapists, and wanted to overrun the established systems of investigation and justice to ensure the rape survives as part of region’s political tool of dominance, intimidation and terror, reports Masood Hussain

By the time, the state government transferred the kidnapping case of the 8-year-old Bakerwal girl, to the state police Crime Branch on January 23, 2018; it had already been “solved”. Investigators at the Hiranagar police station had arrested the killer SS, a resident of Hiranagar, who lived with his maternal uncle Sanji Ram at Rasana. The investigation was a story.

The Cooked Up Story

SS, the Juvenile in Contravention with Law (JCL), has been an interesting character. Son of a peon at the Higher Secondary School at Chargal, he was enrolled at Modern Public School at Skidi. Addicted to smoking and alcohol, JCL was rusticated by the school for frequently misbehaving with girl students.

By the end of 2017, his family shifted him to Rasana to get disciplined by his Mamu. He would do menial jobs for the family. During the course of investigations, Sub Inspector Anand Dutta detected his involvement, rounded him up and, during interrogation, he accepted the kidnapping and gave a graphic detail of how he killed the little girl in a cowshed. Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) accepted the investigations and sent him to the juvenile home. The case was solved.

But the entire story was cooked up. Dutta, a classmate of JCL’s mother in his school days, had received Rs 4 lakh to conclude the case and restrict the involvement to the JCL. Sanji Ram had funded the exercise. As the CB sleuths started investigations, the story changed and new revelations gave the heinous crimes a pathetic motive: communal politics.

The Real Story

Post-spade work, when CB sleuths took possession of JCL, talked to him in presence of his father and some locals. Early January, JCL revealed, Sanji Ram, the Mamu, had hatched a conspiracy to force the Bakarwals flee the locality. He assigned separate jobs to JCL and Deepak Khajuria, an SPO, to take his mission forward.

On January 4, Ram tells his nephew that he should avenge the beating by Bakerwals. Three days later, he tells him he should kidnap the girl.

Deepak took his friend Vikram along on January 7, and they purchased drugs normally used to keep people in a state of unconsciousness.

On January 8, JCL shares the plan with Deepak and Parvesh Kumar (aka Mannu), his friend. A day later, JCL and Parvesh went shopping to Hiranagar and purchased four Manars. On January 10, JCL misled the little girl, searching for their horses, to the jungle.

The Crime Branch team that cracked the Kathua case: (L-R) Naveed Perzada, Romesh Jalla and Afadul Mujtaba. KL Collage

“Sensing some trouble the victim tried to flee away,” the charge sheet reads. “The JCL stopped her by catching hold of her neck and covered her mouth with one of his hands. He pushed her and she fell on the ground. Accused Mannu held her legs and the JCL administered Manars’ one by one forcibly to the victim. The victim fell unconscious and was raped by JCL. Thereafter, Mannu also attempted to rape her but could not do it. Later on, they took the girl and kept her inside Devisthan under the table over two Chatayees (plastic Mats) and then covered her with two Darees (cotton thread Mats).Thereafter, both JCL and accused Mannu left Devisthan after locking it.” Manars are an ayurvedic preparation with bhang as an ingredient and is normally used as sedatives but abused by the addicts.

Around noon on January 11, Deepak Khajuria visited the Devisthan and administered three tablets of drugs to keep her unconscious. At 5 pm, JCL visits the “Devisthan for lighting Jyot” and checked the unconscious girl.

Same day, JCL ring up Vishal, Ram’s son and his cousin, in Meerut, and details the entire episode “and asked him to return from Meerut in case he wanted to satisfy his lust.”

On January 12, 2018, Sanji Ram has two guests: his sister, Tripta Devi, JCL’s mother; and Vishal, his son. Aware of everything, Sanji Ram, get cops at home and settles a deal with them. Tripta, now well briefed about her son’s involvement, delivers Rs 1.5 lakh to Dutta. the little girl gets a fresh dose of sedatives: 3 tablets in empty stomach!

On January 13, Vishal accompanies his father Sanji Ram, to the temple for Puja. JCL joins them. After Ram left, Vishal and JCL see the little girl, administer her sedatives again and rape her one by one. Police eventually recovers the remaining tables of the sedatives.

As police are managed, accused do whatever they want. JCL briefs his Mamu about the gang-rape. But the crisis is Lohri because people usually throng the temple.

“Accused Sanji Ram directed JCL that the time was ripe to kill the girl so as to achieve the ultimate goal of criminal conspiracy hatched among the accused,” the charge-sheet reads. “On the direction of accused Sanji Ram at Devisthan the accused Mannu, Vishal and JCL removed the victim from Devisthan and took her to a nearby culvert situated in front of Devisthan. In the meantime accused Deepak also reached there. On the spot accused Deepak Khajuria @ Deepu told JCL to wait as he wanted to rape the girl before she is killed. As such once again the little girl was gang raped firstly by accused Deepak Khajuria @ Deepu and then by JCL. After committing the barbaric act of rape on minor victim the accused Deepak Khajuria @ Deepu kept her neck on his left thigh and started applying force with his hands on her neck in order to kill her. As accused Deepak Khajuria @ Deepu was unsuccessful in killing her, another accused JCL killed her by pressing his knees against her back and strangulated the girl by applying force on both the ends of her Chunni. Thereafter, accused JCL, in order to make sure that the victim is dead, hit her twice on head with stone.”

The corpse was supposed to be transported away and thrown into a river. But Kishore did not get the car. As the four accused dumped the body, “Sanji Ram was keeping watch outside Devisthan”. Later, the body was taken and thrown in the jungle. It was detected by Jagdish Raj, a Dugaan Bani resident, while searching his herd, on January 17. That day after the autopsy was over, head constable Tilak Raj visits Sanji Ram, seeks handing over of at least one accused. He returns with Rs 1 lakh, instead.

A day later, however, JCL is arrested. Things go off-script. Dutta directs him to implicate Gadee, another Bakerwal, arrested on suspicion. In police station, Sanji Ram, tells him not to implicate Vishal. JCL admits to the crime but tells a concocted story. Dutta follows the same and completes the investigation.

Missing Links

As part of the conspiracy with Sanji Ram, Dutta and Tilak Raj “washed the clothes worn by the deceased at the time of her death with the intention to remove the clay and blood stains / sperms etc and thereafter forwarded the same to FSL for expert opinion.” They “deliberately” avoided searching Devisthan. They skipped seizing “deliberately” her dupatta, hair-band and necklace and clothes. These “vital pieces of evidence” were later seized by CB sleuths. They had not collected victim’s blood sample from the doctors at the time of autopsy.

Parents of slain girl a day after her body was recovered.

In presence of an executive magistrate, CB sleuths visited the spots of occurrence and reconstructed the crime scene. It led to various recoveries including blood stained wooden sticks and hair strand. The hair stands from the Devisthan matched with the DNA profile of the girl confirming it as the spot of her captivity, a space exclusively manned by Sanji Ram. Another hair strand recovered from the spot in jungle where she was dumped, matched with the DNA profile of JCL.

“Datta and Tilak Raj had made all efforts to destroy the evidence by washing the clothes worn by the deceased and FSL Srinagar could not frame any opinion,” the charge sheet reads. “But to the ill luck of accused, the FSL Delhi with updated technology was able to confirm the presence of blood stains on the Frock-Shalwar of the victim.”

“As per the report of medical experts the victim was found prima-facie raped before being killed,” it adds. “The medical opinion also established the fact that the victim had been kept without food and administered sedatives and her cause of death was Asphyxia leading to cardio-pulmonary arrest.”

Call details analysis established the individual and common locations of all the accused in and around the scene of crime on crucial dates of occurrence.

There are two angles still being investigated. Firstly, the involvement of SPO Surinder Kumar. Currently in custody, he was deputed by Deepak Khajuria on a lookout on Bakerwal movement around the Deviasthan. He is undergoing narco-analysis.

And secondly, Vishal, Sanji Ram’s son, has manipulated his attendance at Akansha College in Mirapur (UP) on the day he was committing crimes at home. CB believes there has been a large transaction to manage the creation of false evidence but needs further investigation.

The Motive

In the entire investigation, it is Sanji Ram who emerges as the villain in the story. Imagine him out of the story; there is no story at all: there is no kidnapping, no rapes, no murder and not getting cops as part of the crime. Why he did all this?

CB’s meticulous investigation suggests his serious hate against the settlement of Bakarwals in Rasana Kootah, and Dhamyal area. A local Harnam Singh sold some land to Bakerwals, Ram made it disputed. Singh had to approach the High Court to undo the dispute that Ram engineered.

In December 2017, Sanji Ram seized goats of Rashid Bakerwal for watering his cattle at a pond near his house and fined him Rs 1000 and released his herd. Besides, he also charged Rs 1000 fine from Yousaf Bakarwal for grazing his cattle in the forest pasture. The two cops supported his idea of dislodging Bakerwals from the area. He would motivate his community by claiming that the Bakerwals indulge in cow slaughter and drug trafficking.

It was his intervention that the little girl could not get a grave in the land that her father owned for last more than 40 years.

BJP ministers CP Ganga and Lal Singh in Rasana participating in a pro rapist gathering.

Why is it significant?

“It is a remarkable case because there was nobody in the system who was supportive of the idea of justice to the baby girl,” a journalist who followed the case from day one, said. “People in the department of health, police and the politics – all were in collusion. It was not BJP alone, even Congressmen were part of it.”

Talib Hussain, a Gujjar lawyer who braved intimidation and threat came on the roads against the incident. He was detained and threatened with arrest under Public Safety Act. But he remained adamant and when the case was raised by the opposition in the state assembly, the entire situation changed. Talib moved out and took the mobilisation of his community to the next level.

In the midst of investigations when the Hindu Ekta Manch emerged and started invading the streets, it was clearly visible that the special purpose vehicle (SPV) has some strong connection either with the crime or the criminals. The investigations found their involvement in both. It was the outcome of the efforts by the Sanji Ram.

Residents and the investigators see the influence of Sanji Ram on two fronts. One, he has been very close to the BJP. He is considered a right-hand man of local BJP leader Vijay Kumar, who set up the Manch. Sources said that Kumar was being expelled from the party but the RSS lobby has exerted a lot of pressure. “He is hanging by a thin threat,” one insider said.

Two, Sanji Ram holds a lot of influence in the cluster of villages because as Patwari in the irrigation department, he has helped people. Besides, he was leading the Puja at the local temple and was the main preacher. Locals said there was a strong possibility that Ram might have been eyeing the land either for himself or for someone within the politics.

Terming itself a social organisation, the Munch would demand the investigation of the case be done by the CBI. It was an alarming situation when two cabinet ministers Lal Singh and CP Ganga visited the belt and spoke to the crowds seeking CBI investigation. They provoked the locals to rise against the “police terror” and the “jungle raj”. Singh, as forest minister, spearheaded a three-year campaign against Gujjar nomads and threw them out of the jungles. Once, he even told a delegation that had they forgotten 1947.

This triggered some tensions within the government and the police. Locals resented a “Kashmir Police” investigating the case which eventually led to the inclusion of a senior non-Muslim police officer, as supervisor of the investigations that High Court monitored.

But it did not kill the CBI demand which was actually supported by Dr Jintendra Singh, MoS in the PMO.

Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin who accompanied State Women’s’ Commission chairperson to the village for meeting the protesting women reported that the women were shouting in the chorus for a probe by CBI.

“When asked what CBI is, they say they don’t know but that ‘it would bring them justice’,” she reported. “One says, “It will set our men free”. Another says CBI is an “organization that tells the truth.”

Why was investigation permitted?

Cases like that of this little girl bring tens of thousands of people on the streets. In India, the entire country was out to seek capital punishment of rapist in Nirbaya case. It was the same situation earlier in the Jessica Lal tragedy. “In both the cases, the victims’ families were dissatisfied with the response to the crimes,” a ruling party leader said. “But in Jammu, there were people rallying in support of the rapists and murders.”

Sanji Ram’s Manch used India’s National Flag to mobilise masses against the police investigation.

This situation led Chief Minister to face an embarrassment for sitting with a party that was openly supporting a rapist and a killer. Jammu was raising fingers over the credibility of the police that, interestingly, was headed by a Jammuite, Dr Shesh Pal Vaid.

The issue was taken up at the highest levels in Delhi but nothing much happened. “If the same police holds Kashmir for India and no questions are being raised, why it is a different spin in Jammu?” the BJP was conveyed at important levels.

While they agreed to the argument, insiders said, the go-ahead was not the outcome on the merits of the case only! It was on strategic issues that felt more convincing to the policymakers in Delhi.

Gujjars and Bakerwals are the communities that live in mountains and most of the border areas across the state are inhibited by them,” the argument was made. “The day they will decide they will take revenge for the injustice, it will change the state.” The twin communities live in Poonch, Rajouri, and with Pahari population, in Uri, Keran, Karnah and Gurez. The case has helped the three communities to forge sort of an emotional alliance.

It was only after this argument that BJP flew its Secretary General Ram Madhav to Jammu to make public that BJP will support the CB investigations. He had a heated argument at the party meeting where some participants did insist that the agitating people should be taken seriously. Despite all these efforts, however, the Bar Association at Kathua created a spectacle when CB sleuths drove with the accused to present a charge sheet before the CJM. A day later, the man leading the Jammu Bar Association in enforcing the strike in the capital city was B S Slathia, the chief political agent of Congress veteran and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He was the man who threatened that Jammu will take up guns, now. The only saving grace was the Jammu Chamber of Commerce that stayed away from the upper caste crusade.

Are Muslims class-II citizenry?

The case is solved and now trial will takeover. But where? Talib Hussain, the lawyer who now claims he carries a Sangh award on his head, said they will be seeking intervention from the Supreme Court for shifting the trial somewhere else, a demand supported by NC and various bar associations outside Jammu-Samaba-Kathua-Udhampur belts.

But it is not going to change the larger right-wing debate in Jammu’s Hindu heartland that demography of the area is being changed. The argument, flawed on basis of the last census, is being seen as a response of massive investment that Muslims have made in the housing between Sidhra and Bhathindi that is almost a half ring around the temple town.

While part of the investment was made by the working Muslim families from Kashmir, most of it, however, belongs to the migrants and settlers from Chenab and Pir Panchal Valleys.

This is the reason against uprooting the Gujjars and the Bakerwals from the forests areas, residents insist. There were a series of violent incident in which these nomadic families were uprooted after their dokas’ were set afire. Part of the attack was on the Dodhi Gujjars who survive on mulching herds by supplying milk to the city. Off late, the Jammu Development Authority (JDA) is running a sustained campaign for the “recovery” of encroached land. It demolished certain seminaries in the outskirts of the city that existed well before JDA was born. This was the main reason why the Chief Minister issued orders that no displacement from forests should take place without the prior permission of the Tribal Affairs Ministry.

Muslims, mostly Gujjars and Bakerwals, make a small component of Jammu’s Hindu heartland. But the right-wing politics still needs an issue.

Will it help them, now?

“The challan is all right but it has created a communal situation in Jammu,” a Jammu Muslim Front office-bearer said. “Muslims are feeling insecure.” He, however, said the drive against Gujjars living around the city has been stopped for the time being.

The men behind the crime: (L to R) Vishal, Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Pravesh Kumar. KL Graphics: Aijaz Ganai

“After the CB submitted the charge sheet, there is a sense of defeat in people,” journalist Zaffar Choudhary said. “This is the time for a dialogue between the communities given the unpleasant things in the past.”

The local stakeholders said the emergence of a new narrative in which the Muslim populations are being seen as an extension of “demographic invasion” is something that gives goose-bumps to the minorities. “Kathua case investigation will not help on that count,” the resident said. “There has to be a mutually agreed process that will help do away the exclusivity that certain sections are claiming. After all, there is only one constitution.”

Any Political Consequences?

Revelations by the CB shocked people across continents. There was a mass reaction to how low people can go in hate and politics. All of a sudden, the liberals and the seculars in India rediscovered the little girl, three months later. The poor girl’s tragedy has emerged as the massive shaming globally to the right-wing managed India that is already facing a crisis of poorest record and tolerance for others.

As BJP rallied behind the accused, PDP wanted to ensure justice to the victim. CM Mehbooba took on twitter many times to reiterate ‘justice will be delivered.’

As CB filed the charge sheet, the revelations were gruesome. Moving people beyond the ideological divide, the voices grew shriller seeking justice for the little girl and heads of the two BJP ministers from Mehbooba Mufti cabinet for taking a clear side of the accused and provoking the villagers against the police that is still protecting them.

With Mehbooba insisting the central leadership of BJP about the possible fallout and conveyed her displeasure, a source in the party said. “the message from Delhi was clear that rape-politics is not sustainable.”

Lal Singh had notoriously said: “so what if this girl has died, many girls die every day”. Sensing trouble, he and Ganga took a U-turn and started seeking justice for the victim.

With ruffling feathers, the two ministers had to submit resignation to the party president in Jammu, the decision which is said to be influenced by the party high command.

With Lal and Ganga gone, PDP, insiders have said got a face saver and an expected reshuffle will be now anytime soon.

Singh and Ganga finally submitted their resignations to their party. But is it enough? Nobody knows.

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