“We don’t have faith in police or the court. Get us only the CBI. Only CBI!” That is the demand of the women sitting on relay hunger strike at Kahoota Morh, on the main highway, in Hiranagar. The women are family members of the men who have been arrested in rape and murder case of the eight-year-old girl.
The Crime Branch of Police presently investigating the case has arrested eight persons, including four cops and three men from the same family. Their neighbour has also been arrested and Crime Branch has maintained that the investigations are almost over and a challan in the case would soon be presented before the court.
When asked what CBI is, the women responded, “We don’t know; we only know it will do justice with us.”
As part of a women’s intervention initiated by State Women Commission to talk to those women, SCW chairperson, Nayeema Mehjoor, and I visited the hunger strike venue early this afternoon.
About 20-25 women were seated on a raised cemented square platform of about 10 feet by 10 feet, under a huge Banyan tree. Rugs and carpets were spread on the ground in front of the pedestal where about a same number of men sat or stood, raising slogans, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.”
Two of them moved forward as we alighted from the car. “Please sit, and then we will talk,” the men said.
“We only want to meet the women and talk to them,” Nayeema said, as we walked past them and climbed up the steps to join the women.
The women told us they were on relay hunger strike because they feel that their family members have been wrongly arrested by the police.
The SCW chairperson asked them to have faith in the system. “The investigations in the case are being completed and then the case will go to the court. The judiciary cannot be biased. They go by evidence and they will decide on the case as per law and proof. The court will give justice. There is an institutional process. If you still feel injustice has been done, you can appeal against the court’s verdict.”
“But they have only victimised our people, not theirs,” said a few women. “Why only our people have been arrested?”
“Do you know of the seriousness of the crime? A young girl has been raped and killed. Don’t you think that has been the biggest injustice,” we responded. “As women, is it not our duty to also talk about safety of women, irrespective of their religious and caste identity? Issues of safety and rights of women are common for all women.”
Wife of Sanjhi Ram, one of the main accused in the rape and murder case of the eight-year-old girl, immediately responded, “We are not opposing justice for that girl. She should get justice but they have been wrongly arresting our men. We need justice too.”
“We don’t know who committed the crime against the girl, at this point in time. Police has picked up 8 men and are saying they are guilty. The case will go to the court and if your family members are found to be guilty, then what will you do?” Nayeema told them.
“They have not committed the crime. We know, they haven’t done anything,” she retorted back.
“My son has been picked up three months back,” shouted one woman from among the crowd.
“It is their police who is arresting our people, not theirs,” another piped in.
On enquiry what they meant by ‘our people’ and ‘them’, one of them shouted from behind, “It is Mehbooba Mufti’s government and their Police.”
Nayeema clarified, “Police is for everybody. Do you know who is heading the police department in this state?”
“No, they have got Kashmir police specially to investigate this case,” the women said.
We asked whether somebody has misinformed them. There is only one J&K Police in the state and one Crime Branch for the entire state and the SIT formed for this particular case comprises mixed members, mostly from Jammu, we added.
“They are deliberately arresting our men, none of theirs,” some women, sitting on the right side said.
“If the police find some evidence against them, I am sure they would be arrested too. If there is no evidence against your family members and they are being wrongly framed, the court will let them off,” we said.
One of them came from the middle of the crowd and sat next to me. “They arrested them one by one and they have taken the men of our entire village,” she said.
“Four civilians and four cops have been arrested,” I reminded her.
She went on, “They are being tortured and made to confess and that is how the police are trying to prove our men guilty.”
“If that indeed is the case, the court does not treat confessions made in custody as admissible evidence,” we said.
Men standing behind us were making gestures with their hands and communicating with the women. And suddenly, the chatter among the women grew louder.
More men gathered and five-six women started talking at one time.
I requested them to speak by turn. There was a second’s silence and then one of them raised her pitch, “How do you think we feel? Our men have been picked up wrongly and tortured. There is no justice for us. Should we not get justice? Don’t you feel our pain?”
“Of course, justice is for everybody,” we said. “Even you agree, there should be justice done to the raped and killed girl. We agree that nobody should be wrongly punished. Then let the process of law take its course.”
Some of the men earlier sitting moved closer to the platform and stood in half a huddle; some continued to gesture with their fingers.
“And what of the torture they are going through?” the woman who raised her voice earlier shouted back.
“And what if he is guilty?” I said.
“Bring the CBI, then; Only CBI will do justice to us,” some women shouted in chorus.
A woman on the extreme right adjusted the slipping veil on her head and spoke, “you are educated women and trying to confuse us illiterate village women. We are simpletons. Just get us the CBI in this case and that is all we want.”
“Don’t you have faith in the police?” I asked. “They have nabbed their own department people also in the case. How did you see this as bias. Besides, they cannot decide the matter eventually. That will be decided by the court,” I added and asked, “Don’t you have faith in the court?”
A chorus response from the other side: “We have no faith in court or police. Only in CBI!”
When asked what is CBI, they say they don’t know but that ‘it would bring them justice’. One says, “it will set our men free”. Another says, CBI is an “organisation that tells the truth”.
“How?” I quiz.
“We don’t know how,” one of the women replied, “But they know everything?”
“If you don’t know what CBI is, who is telling you to demand for a CBI probe?” I asked.
“Nobody. We don’t know anything. But we only want CBI probe?” some women yell back in chorus as we get up to leave, looking at the impossibility of a conversation.
A man taking photographs, or videographing the conversation, starts gesturing with his fingers again.
“You are also bought by Mehbooba Mufti,” two women shout, as another breaks into expletives.
Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal is Executive Editor, The Kashmir Times. The article first appeared in The Kashmir Times