Work remained suspended in all the courts including High Court, tribunals, revenue courts and commissions in Jammu for the third consecutive day on April 6, as lawyers continued to protest against what they allege is the PDP-BJP state government’s attempt to change the demography of the region.
The Jammu High Court Bar Association has been spearheading the movement, demanding deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi refugees, handing over the case of rape-and-murder of a minor in Kathua to the Central Bureau of Investigation, and revocation of supposed instructions issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to the police and Deputy Commissioners against forcibly evicting pastoral nomad communities of Gujjars and Bakerwals from the state land, without its prior approval.
“Most of the Bar members are RSS and BJP functionaries. They are just preparing grounds for the next assembly election in the state by peddling politics of hate and fear mongering,” said senior advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed, adding that “the secular fabric of Jammu Bar is under threat. Members of a particular community are not participating in the agitation. And it’s time for everyone to introspect.”
The body of the eight-year-old girl was recovered from Rasana forest on January 17, a week after she went missing while grazing horses in the forest area. The state government has rejected the demand for a CBI probe into the incident, saying the investigation carried out by the Crime Branch was almost complete. The Crime Branch, which took over the case on January 23, has arrested six persons, including two special police officers and a policeman, while the main conspirator, a former revenue official, surrendered on March 20, a day after his son was arrested by sleuths from outside the state.
The police probe had earlier found that the nomad girl was sexually assaulted and murdered to scare off her community members and discourage them from camping in the village every winter.
A popular conspiracy theory that has been resonating in Jammu region is that attempts are being made to discreetly settle Muslim nomads on state land to change demographic features of Jammu province, which is a Hindu dominant area in the Muslim majority state. While Muslims make up only 31% of the total population, they are concentrated in hilly districts such as Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban and Reasi. In rest of the economically better-off districts such as Jammu, Kathua, Samba and Udhampur, they are said to be below 10% of the region’s population.
Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, who is representing the eight-year-old girl’s family in the rape and murder case, has accused president of Jammu Bar Association, advocate BS Salathia of misbehaving with her, an allegation denied by Salathia. Rajawat alleged that the Bar president made independent remarks to discourage her from pursuing the matter. “The bar is demanding that the case be handed over to CBI whereas the Crime Branch is already conducting investigations under the monitoring of High Court,” Rajawat stressed.
Speaking to National Herald, Salathia claimed that the state government was deliberately creating a hostile situation to disturb the harmonious atmosphere and character of the Jammu region. He said that the BJP leaders in state government was playing a second fiddle and compromising on the interest of Jammu region.
Salathia said the Bar has received over-whelming support from the peripheral Bar associations, and work in different courts at Kathua, Samba, Udhampur, Bishnah, Reasi, Basholi, Hiranagar, Bhaderwah and other Moffusil bars remained suspended. The association is going to strategise about their further course of action in a meeting with members of civil society on April 7.
While the local BJP leaders and ministers in the state government have time and again described Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees as a security threat, they have also been demanding that the investigation of the rape and murder case be handed over to the CBI. However, most of them have feigned ignorance over the instructions issued by the Tribal affairs ministry.