Scenes of hooliganism played out on the premises of a court in Kathua on Monday as lawyers prevented Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir Police from producing a charge sheet against seven accused involved in rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from another community.
Accompanied by the accused, the Crime Branch team faced stiff resistance from the members of Kathua Bar Association who chanted “Jai Shri Ram” and “go back Crime Branch” slogans. The charge sheet could be filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate finally at around 9:30 pm, after an additional contingent of security forces was deployed on the court premises, following the intervention of the J&K law minister.
Police on Tuesday registered a First Information Report (FIR) against lawyers of Kathua Bar Association over Monday’s protest.
The body of eight-year-old Asifa, a nomad Muslim girl, was recovered from Rasana forest in Kathua district on January 17, a week after she went missing while grazing her family’s ponies. The girl was held captive, sedated and raped for several days at a local temple before she was murdered, according to the J&K Police Crime Branch investigation based on DNA test, forensic evidence and post-mortem report.
“All the members of the Bar have strongly agitated against the presentation of challan (charge sheet) by the crime branch in the Rasana case… the agitation of the bar proved successful and the crime branch was compelled to go back and the challan could not be presented in the court of chief judicial magistrate Kathua,” president of Kathua Bar Association, Kirty Bhushan Mahajan, said in a statement on Monday evening.
Mahajan said the Bar is already on strike against the investigation of the case by crime branch and strongly favours a CBI inquiry into the incident. “All the Bar members strongly condemned the conduct of the crime branch in dealing the issue. The state government has failed to deal the issue or understand the sentiments of the people. The agitation of the bar shall continue and the bar has unanimously decided to keep the work under suspension till April 12.”
"The seven accused are 60-year-old Sanji Ram, Special Police Officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma, Sub-Inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj, civilian Parvesh Kumar and Sanji's minor son Vishala," police said. The accused have been charged under Sections 302, 376, 201 and 120-B of the state’s Ranbir Penal Code. The Crime Branch said it was in the process of filing a separate chargesheet against a “juvenile”, who is allegedly among the main accused in the crime.
The four policemen in the case are accused of destroying evidence. Another accused who confessed to the crime was initially believed to be 15 years old, but was declared a 19-year-old by a medical board set up by the court.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had earlier rejected two BJP ministers’ demand for an inquiry by the CBI into the case. The case was handed over to the Crime Branch on January 23, which started investigation under the monitoring of Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
Meanwhile, the rancorous protest by the lawyers has evoked scathing criticism from former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, besides other activists and civil society members.
At the core of the entire controversy is widespread apprehensions over alleged attempts to change the demography of Hindu majority districts in Jammu province. The Crime Branch probe also claimed that the motive behind the ghastly crime was to scare off nomadic Gujjar and Bakerwal community members from Rasana village—where they camp every winter traditionally.
The incident has triggered a political turmoil in the state, dividing people on communal and regional lines. Even though two senior BJP leaders and ministers had earlier attended a rally organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch that had been demanding a CBI probe and release of the accused persons, the party now seems to be retreating from its previous stand on the agitation.
The High Court Bar Association in Jammu—which has been protesting since April 4, supported by various organisations and political parties—has called for a Jammu Bandh on April 11, demanding a CBI probe into the case, besides deportation of Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees and revocation of supposed instructions issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in favour of pastoral nomads including Gujjars and Bakerwals.
“Since the issues highlighted by the advocates are sub-judice, it would be better if the lawyers used their professional skills and prayed judicial remedy rather than dabbling in politics,” read a statement issued by BJP.
Meanwhile, Chamber of Commerce and Industries Jammu has denied that it gave support to the Bandh call.
With agency inputs
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