No one in their senses would ever condone a brutal rape and murder case involving an eight-year-old child, leave aside backing the rapists. The Kathua case has rightly attracted the nation’s attention and grabbed media headlines, albeit belatedly, coming three months after the heinous crime took place. The handling or mishandling of the case both at the levels of the state government and a section of Jammu’s civil society has made it incumbent to expose the loose ends and cross-connections.
There could not have been something much worse than measuring such criminal act on the scale of religion. The Muslim victim versus the Hindu perpetrators view has not only robbed the case of the seriousness with which it should have been investigated or discussed, it has resulted in adversarial politics of the worst kind taking centre-stage, and at the same time raising some serious questions.
The Jammu branch of the High Court Bar Association was at the vanguard of a protest to highlight regional discrimination vis-a-vis Kashmir. The lawyers’ body under senior advocate BS Slathia had been gearing up for some time to launch direct action when the Kathua rape case came into focus. So, the CBI inquiry into the case became part of the charter of demands.
Why a CBI probe? This question has acquired added significance as in this case, the demand for a CBI probe came after state Crime Branch had made considerable headway in the case, with its findings almost nailing the persons under suspicion. The prime motivator behind demand for shifting of any case to CBI is usually lack of trust in local police. But that alone was not the reason in this case, as those demanding CBI probe shockingly cited domination of Special Investigating Team (SIT) by a particular religious group as the reason.
This was far removed from truth. No one ever bothered to look into the composition of the SIT. It is supervised by Senior Superintendent of Police Ramesh Kumar Jalla and headed by Additional SP Naveed Pirzada. Its other members are Deputy SP Shwetambri Sharma, Inspector KK Gupta, Sub Inspector Irfan Wani and ASI Tariq Anwar.
The intent to communalise the SIT had ulterior motives as neither the Jammu or Kathua Bar Associations nor other social groups joining the protests ever tried to clarify this. On the contrary, this argument was allowed to gain currency and unfortunately, the government did little to clear the doubts. The political and vested interests came into full play. The regional Jammu versus Kashmir fight acquired dangerous Hindu versus Muslim communal overtones.
The currently developing situation in Jammu has three components: The criminal act of Kathua being sought to be politicised and communalised; issues related to regional discrimination; and ever-growing political ambitions of individual leaders and some political parties that includes top functionaries of the Bar Association
The only silver-lining is that despite attempts at raising passions, the civil society of Jammu comprising different religious groups kept calm. The question arises whether the civil society of Jammu collectively failed to condemn the rape and killing of a child. The answer is no, as after spending a week in the region one gathered the impression that, barring a few individuals and groups with ulterior motives, the rest of the society not only condemned but sought severe punishment for the rapists.
The problem has arisen with the mixing of rape issue with regional discrimination and changing demographic profile of Jammu region. The rape case was immediately connected by the vested interests to the demography argument and the resultant problem. It provided a fertile ground to political parties, particularly the ruling BJP-PDP alliance, to exploit the situation.
It is a great injustice to the family of the victim that the rape case has got mired in murky politics. This crime and regional and political aspirations of Jammu should be viewed separately. It is praiseworthy that Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the case that would not only check further communalising of the investigations, but also reassure the victim’s family and civil society as a whole of impartial probe and justice.
The currently developing situation in Jammu has three components: 1. The criminal act of Kathua being sought to be politicised and communalised 2. Issues related to regional discrimination 3. Ever-growing political ambitions of individual leaders and some political parties that includes top functionaries of the Bar Association.
A chargesheet has already been filed by the SIT before a Kathua court, despite deplorable attempts by local lawyers to prevent the police officials from doing so. It is ironic that rather than using the legal options available to them to seek CBI probe, the protesting lawyers both in Jammu and Kathua took recourse to direct action. Ostensibly, the direct action would garner greater public support and give fillip to the agitation, than the legal process.
The Jammu High Court Bar Association has a history of launching and spearheading long agitations, mostly in the name of issues related to Jammu region. The recent one was over the Amarnath Shrine land-row in 2008-09 and incidentally Slathia was its chief. One outcome of the agitation was that senior advocate who also headed Shri Amarnath Sangarsh Samiti, Leela Karan became BJP candidate for 2009 Lok Sabha election. However, he lost the election.
The current agitation has also got mired in political controversy with BJP (read Sangh Parivar) alleging a Congress hand behind Kathua events as it cited Slathia’s Congress background and his close proximity to Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad. However, Slathia has been for quite some time maintaining a safe distance from Congress and seen more in the company of right-wing elements.
It is a well known fact that the BJP-PDP ruling alliance has run out of steam. The BJP has lost considerable ground in Jammu region where it got 25 out of 37 Assembly seats three years ago, due to failure on all fronts, particularly promises to get Jammu its due share. The saffron party ministers and leaders are finding it hard to face people amidst stories galore of rampant corruption.
There are reliable reports of a section of right wing organisations being behind giving a communal colour to the rape case by connecting it to the demographic change argument. The idea behind creating such smoke screen is to divert attention from governance failure and at the same time be able to open channels with the public.