by Tasavur Mushtaq
On February 16, Friday, a right-wing group known as Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM), took out a protest demonstration in Jammu. Comprising of men, women, and children, the protesters were chanting anti-government slogans while waving the tricolor. Escorted by the police personnel, the support rally was seeking the release of rape and murder accused of an eight-year-old girl, Asifa.
The arrested accused are both working in police, SPO Deepak Khajuria and SPO Surinder Kumar.
Moments after as the news spread, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti took on to the virtual world to express her anger and resentment over the rally.
“Appalled by the marches & protests in defense of the recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag in these demonstrations, this is nothing short of desecration. The accused has been arrested & the law will follow its course,” she wrote on social networking site Twitter.
The rally which Mehbooba condemned also saw the participation of local leaders of BJP, her coalition partner. The forum seeking the release of accused is surprisingly headed by state BJP secretary Vijay Sharma.
But BJP state leadership distanced itself from the protests while terming the decision of HEM as their ‘own’. “BJP is not supporting them. Our stand is clear that [the] accused should be punished and the law should take its own course,” BJP General Secretary (Organisation) Ashok Koul said.
As the case lies with Crime Branch of J&K Police, HEM led by BJP leaders in Kathua insists the case should be handed over to CBI.
However, the government led by Mehbooba stuck to the decision of investigating the gruesome rape and murder case by the state agency.
What triggered new controversy between the north-pole and south-pole was when the fortnight later on March 1, BJP publicly came out in support of the accused, whom top officers of the Crime Branch had said were arrested on “concrete evidence.”
The two senior leaders of BJP and cabinet ministers in Mehbooba led coalition, Minister for Forest Chowdhary Lal Singh and Minister for Commerce and Industries Chander Prakash Ganga participated in the protests organized by HEM. Accompanied by the party’s MLAs from Kathua and Hiranagar constituencies, Rajeev Jasrotia and Kuldip Raj, the two ministers openly supported the Manch in seeking the release of the accused.
Not only the message of support but one of the ministers, even slammed their own government “creating jungle raj” in the victim’s Rasana village and not going in for a CBI investigation into the case. They assured the protesters that they would ask CM Mehbooba to transfer the case to the CBI.
While questioning the role of investigating agency, the ministers said: “it has shaken the faith of people in the administration and instilled fear psychosis in them”.
As Lal Singh accused his own government of committing a blunder by “getting officials from Kashmir to investigate the case”, his colleague Ganga had hit out at SSP Mohammed Suleman Chaudhary for “arresting people at will” and imposing “jungle raj” in the area.
“This government is for all and not for a particular region or people of a particular caste, creed or religion. We (BJP) too have an equal share in it (government),” Singh said while asking villagers to return to Rasana.
BJP’s Kathua unit President P N Dogra has termed the arrest as a form of “Jihad.”
Ashok Koul while defending the action of BJP ministers said, “Our leaders went to attend the rally because we have to face people there.”
With a clear of BJP taking the side of the accused, the opposition parties launched a scathing attack on the chief minister and her government.
State’s principal opposition party National Conference termed the participation of cabinet ministers in protest rally as an open challenge to the authority of Chief Minister and said this was a conclusive proof that Ministers of the Government were interfering into the ongoing criminal investigation of the heinous crime.
Party spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu in a statement said “the Chief Minister on the 16th of February said she was ‘appalled’ by the Hindu Ekta Manch march in favour of the culprits of this heinous crime. Less than two weeks later her Cabinet Colleagues not only participated in but also addressed another such event of the same organization that is trying to politicize the probe to shield the culprits.”
And asked “we want to know how the prohibitory orders were violated and if this was done with the tacit approval of the Chief Minister? If not, then why has no action been taken against the District Administration, the District Police and more importantly the BJP Ministers who made a mockery of the law through their participation? Is the Chief Minister too scared to act? Is power so important to her that she is willing to be ridiculed in such fashion,” he added.
Cornered by the stand taken by its coalition partner, senior PDP leader and minister for works Naeem Akhtar came down heavily without naming BJP leaders and expressed serious concern over the attempts being made to politicise an inhuman criminal act.
“It is highly deplorable that divisive politics is being played by some people over the most reprehensible act of rape and murder of an innocent girl, which has brought a bad name to the whole society,” Akhtar said in a statement.
He said instead of trying to whip up communal passions over this shameful criminal act, and try to hamper the investigations, the law enforcing agencies should be allowed to bring the criminals to justice to restore the confidence of the people.
“The dangerous attempts of polarizing the situation in the otherwise tolerant and inclusive Jammu region over a dastardly criminal act need to be seen through and discouraged at every level,” he said and complimented the people of Jammu region for having unequivocally condemned this dastardly act of rape and murder of an unsuspecting girl.
Expressing dismay over the fingers being raised on Jammu and Kashmir police, Akhtar said that J&K Police is known for its investigative skills and nobody can question their professional capabilities. He said one must remember that it is the same police force which is making supreme sacrifices to ensure peace and security in the State.
“Ironically, the same politicians who are today questioning the professional capabilities of the police force and want it to be kept out of investigations into Kathua incident, make a beeline to offer tributes when any personnel of the same force sacrifices his life while fighting elements inimical to peace,” he said and added that there can’t be double-standards in valuing the responsibilities of this key institution in one breath and demeaning the same institution in another breath.
“Whether it is J&K Police or for that matter any other investigating agency, they will catch up with the criminal and bring him to justice as such individuals are cancer for the whole society,” Akhtar said and added that if innocent Ashifa fell victim to a felon today, tomorrow it can be anybody’s daughter or sister, as any kind of political patronage will only embolden such criminals to have their way.
Party’s another senior leader and education minister Syed Muhammad Altaf Bukhari said that his party would end the alliance if it fails to deliver justice
“This was an unfortunate incident. I am the custodian of children of J&K. Let me assure you that we will take this case to the logical end. We won’t spare the culprits no matter who stands with whom. This is the question of humanity. The day you feel that we have failed to do justice you won’t see any of us here not even our Chief Minister,” Bukhari told reporters on the sidelines of a function in Srinagar.
Terming the J&K Police a professional force, Bukhari, when asked about shifting of case to CBI, said “I don’t think so as the case is already under investigations by the Crime Branch. Our police is very professional. The Crime Branch is conducting the investigation and it will be taken to logical conclusion. I assure you on behalf of the government that we will not fail to deliver justice in this matter.”
However, BJP’s National Vice-president AvineshRai Khanna, said that seeking justice was not communalising the incident. “Government should consider everyone’s sentiments. Everyone has own sentiments,” Khanna told local news agency over phone from Delhi.
The case was handed over to Crime Branch of J&K Police after the allegations and dissatisfaction by the investigation of the local police. The fingers were raised as the arrested accused were part of the team searching for Asifa, the minor girl and even part of the team which later handed over the body to the family.
After the Special Investigation Team led by Additional SP Crime Branch Kashmir Peerzada Naveed started the investigation, the questioning of arrested minor boy led SIT to arrest SPO Deepak Khajuria and SPO Surinder Kumar. The minor boy was arrested by police and had claimed that he has accepted the crime. However later it was found that he was used as a shield to protect the culprits.
The accused, sources say is in the know of many things of local BJP leadership and has been their accomplice.
Seeking CBI probe, the HEM wants to hush up the matter, a senior police officer told Kashmir Life. He said that if the case is shifted, that would be ‘desecration of the sacrifices made by this police force in establishing law and order and fighting militancy all these decades.”
“Why don’t they doubt us when we fight our own people during protests and anti-militancy operations,” he said and added, “who broke back of militancy in Kashmir?”
Another police officer said, “the BJP leadership or anybody who has such mindset should not come to pay tributes to us when we are killed in maintaining the peace.”
The budget session of assembly was in session when Rasana, a sleepy village far away from Jammu, in Kathua lost its sleep when body of missing eight-year-old girl was found, mercilessly done to death, seven days after she disappeared mysteriously, one km down her hill house where she had taken the horses to a ditch.
The family of the girl alleged she was raped and tortured before her tiny body was dumped on a roadside. “There were bite marks on her face and shoulders,” he said. The bones in her body were broken,” said her father, Mohammad Yousuf.
Shattered to see their child battered and dead, the family had to struggle even to bury her in a piece of land they had bought to use as graveyard more than a decade ago. “They came out with hockey sticks and threatened to dig out the seven graves that are already there. We went, overnight, to a relative’s village and buried her on his land,” said her uncle Ali Jan.
Later it took several protests by the family, the intervention of lawmakers and a continuous reportage that government started to act and the first response was to suspend the local SHO and order a magisterial inquiry.