An eight-year-old girl, belonging to the Bakerwal pastoral nomadic community, had as usual come to Kathua district of Jammu with her family and their livestock, where they stay till the snow melts in alpine pastures.
On January 10, when the whole Jammu region was shivering with biting cold, the eight-year-old girl went to graze her horses in the nearby Rassana forests of Hiranagar tehsil in Kathua district, and vanished. The family searched for her frantically—in the forests, in the nearby villages and everywhere they could—but found no trace of her. After a week, her dead body with tattered clothes, bruised face and broken ribs was recovered by the family from the same forest they had scanned with police multiple times. Later, the investigations revealed that the child was raped before her cold blooded murder.
As the incident found its echo in the J&K state assembly and elicited strong protests by various tribal organisations, the state government on January 22 handed over the case to the state Crime Branch, which constituted a five-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the incident. On February 10, J&K Police Special Police Officer (SPO) Deepak Khajuria, reportedly an RSS sympathiser, was arrested for allegedly ravishing and murdering the nomad child after keeping her in captivity for a week.
“The accused had given some spiked drinks to the victim and after raping her, he killed her brutally” said a police officer who is privy to the Investigation.
Pertinently, Khajuria with other police men was earlier assigned the task of investigating the matter by the local SHO.
Hindu Ekta Manch, a right wing Hindu outfit on Febuary 16 took out a protest rally demanding the release of accused SPO Deepak Khajuria while fluttering the tri-color. The rally however evoked sharp criticism from various political leaders.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbboba Mufti took to Twitter and wrote: “ Appalled by the marches and protests in defiance of recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag in these demonstrations….”
Outraged over the incident, former Chief Minister and National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah also said in a statement that it was shocking to see the national flag in the hands of those who defend a rape accused.
In the entire Jammu region, Kathua district have the highest influence of RSS and other Hindutva forces. The district has less than 7% Muslim population while the Hiranangr Tehsil where the gruesome incident took place has not more than 0.5% population of Muslims. This minuscule population of Muslims continue to groan under the intimidation of right wing outfits which have become hyper-active in the area since the BJP-led NDA government came to power at the centre. The hooligans did not even allow the family to intern the victim in the local Muslim cemetery.
“We were not allowed by the RSS men to bury her in the local grave yard as they want to uproot the Muslim population from the area and capture the land which is under graveyard” said a young Muslim man who helped family to intern the victim in nearby Bandhi village. Wishing not to be named, a septuagenarian Muslim man said that they invited the wrath of local administration by allowing the burial in Bandhi village, as the Public Health Department cut off the water supply to village for three full days.
“The local administration is at the beck and call of RSS. We were punished for complete three days for allowing the burial” he said.
According to some members of All Tribal Coordination Committee, the right-wing activists frequently hold meetings in Hiranagar’s Parshuram temple scheming against the Muslim Bakerwal population. One such meeting was convened on February 14, where many right wing leaders including the office bearers of Hindu Ekta Manch converged and issued death threats to the nomadic population.
“They told us that we should leave the area immediately or they will put us to sword’’, said a Bakerwal woman. “Here we live in utter fear. Honestly, I scurry away at the mere sight of a Hindu man and there is hardly any hope from the current dispensation” she added.