The recent gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old child from the nomadic Muslim Bakerwal community in the Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir has sent shockwaves throughout India.
In the chargesheet, which was recently submitted to the local magistrate, the Crime Branch of the J&K Police has uncovered grisly details of how the child was abducted, drugged, and gang-raped for days before being brutally murdered. This heinous crime was committed to terrorise the Bakerwal community into leaving the area, said the chargesheet.
What has angered many Indians is the behaviour of a Hindu hardline group called the Hindu Ekta Manch, which has protested against the arrest of the accused, and is backed by two ministers of the current ruling PDP-BJP government—Chowdhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga.
Seeking to communalise the entire affair, they claim that the J&K Police is trying to harass the Hindu community by arresting a retired land official and eight others, including four police personnel.
Further anger has come at the sight of lawyers from the Jammu Bar Association trying to stop the police from submitting the chargesheet to the magistrate. This influential lobby of lawyers also reportedly opposed the registration of a case. How these people call themselves officers of the law is quite frankly beyond anyone’s comprehension.
However, there is hope for the victim’s family. Despite deliberate attempts to communalise the entire affair, a lawyer—Deepika Thusoo Singh—and a senior police officer—Ramesh Kumar Jalla—from the Kashmiri Pandit community are leading the charge for justice.
It was only after 38-year-old Deepika Singh filed a writ petition that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court began monitoring the case and the investigation was handed over to the Crime Branch. Such heinous acts of rape have no religion, said Deepika speaking to the Hindustan Times. She has also promised the nail the accused in this case which has further deepened communal fault lines.
The lawyer admitted to receiving threats from the lawyers of the Jammu Bar Association. They are now demanding that a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the case.
“A senior lawyer who is spearheading the protests asked me to stop appearing for my cases as the bar association is on strike,” she said. Deepika is currently under police protection and has lodged a complaint with the chief justice of the J&K High Court against these threats.
What has particularly pained her throughout this episode is how slogans like ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ are being issued in solidarity with the accused in the case. She “feels ashamed” by the sight of her fellow lawyers shouting these slogans.
“It is a heart-wrenching rape of a minor girl, and we should all remember (that) crimes like this have no religion and colour,” she told the Hindustan Times. “We can’t raise these slogans for rapists.”
Moreover, Deepika spoke of another rape case in which she received a judgement in favour of her client, a domestic worker. “She was Hindu; how is this minor girl any different than her,” she said.
Deepika herself is from a Kashmiri Pandit family, which had left their ancestral village of Karihama in North Kashmir in 1986 and moved to Jammu. Four years later thousands of Kashmir Pandits were forced out of their homes in the Valley fearing brutal attacks by militants. This forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley is one of the most shameful chapters in the Valley and an episode which further deepened communal fault lines in the state.
However, Deepika’s main focus is reportedly on seeking justice for Asifa and her family.
“If they (lawyers) say the real culprits are being shielded, the onus is on them to name the real culprits,” she said. “They are calling me anti-national and anti-Jammu; I am not an alien, I am from Jammu,” she added.
Deepika remains defiant in the face of these threats.
Investigating the crime
Senior Superintendent of Police (Crime Branch) Ramesh Kumar Jalla and his team are spearheading the investigation into this horrific crime despite intense pressure from the surrounding community to communalise the affair.
Through the course of this investigation, he uncovered some grisly details. The accused were reportedly caught with circumstantial evidence of the gruesome assault they committed on the eight-year-old inside a temple in Kathua district.
Despite all the pressure, Ramesh and his team finished their investigation in reportedly “record time” and submitted a charge sheet to the magistrate on April 9—10 days before the 90-day deadline set by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. It was his team who were confronted with the unruly lawyers group trying to stop the police from submitting the chargesheet.
Ramesh, who is heading the Crime Branch in the Jammu region, and his team are receiving assistance from a Special Investigation Team led by Naveed Peerzada, a young officer with an “extraordinary track record of solving tough cases,” reports Asia Times.
Ramesh is from Srinagar and joined the state police as an inspector in 1984. He was awarded the President’s police medal for taking on militants during his stint in the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the J&K Police, according to this 2000 The Hindu report.
Ramesh is also known to have taken out many high-profile terrorists. According to some accounts, he reportedly has an impeccable track record when it comes to handling sensitive cases.
Speaking to Asia Times, Ramesh denied any pressure coming from the top during this investigation despite arresting his colleagues.
“Fortunately, I didn’t have any pressure from anyone. Nobody approached or pressured me. No minister, no politician ever talked to me about this,” he said.
It was only after filing the charge sheet that Ramesh spoke of attaining some semblance of peace in his mind.
“I had a sound sleep after over two months,” he said.