A four member team of Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan (Delhi) visited Kathua District of Jammu region of J&K state on 18th and 19th of March 2018 in connection with the rape and murder of an 8 year old girl of the Bakkarwal tribe and the subsequent vicious communal propaganda unleashed there against the arrests of the alleged rapists and murderers. The team consisted of Adv. Poonam Kaushik- PMS General Secretary, Adv. Shubra (Vice President of PMS, Delhi), Adv. Kalpana -Secretary PMS Delhi and Adv. Jaishree.
The team’s Report was released in Delhi on the 24th of March 2018. The team expressed its shock and grief at the fact that the rape and murder of an 8 year old girl child, late Asifa, of a nomadic community, instead of being condemned by all sections of society, has been turned into a rallying point on communal lines in defence of the accused persons. It unanimously condemned the same. It is pertinent to state that the accused persons were apprehended only after the sniffer dogs took the scent from the spot in the jungle where the body was found to the cowshed of Sanjhi Patwari, a retired revenue official who is one of the accused. A Hindu Ekta Manch has emerged since the initial arrests, has secured the participation and blessings of ministers (the Forest Minister of the state is specifically mentioned and one more minister in the State’s govt. apart from the leaders of Congress, BJP and PDP of one particular religion, participated in the rally of the Hindu Ekta Manch)) of the PDP-BJP Govt. and is demanding a CBI enquiry though a J&K High Court monitored enquiry is already on into the brutal crime. This is typical of the BJP-RSS backed organizations that they are disrespectful towards the courts if they fail to toe the line –as was adequately indicated by the 4 judges of the Supreme Court who spoke up to ‘’save democracy’’. It is also typical that the organization is demanding a CBI enquiry, while the Supreme Court had earlier clearly labelled this body as a “caged parrot’’ of the Central Govt. In this case, the idea is to get the case out of the hands of the state govt. and under the BJP-RSS central govt. It is pertinent to note that it was the dead child’s natural father who moved the relevant High Court and prayed that it supervise the ongoing SIT Enquiry. This was accepted and the parents of the killed girl (both natural and adopted parents) are now satisfied with the ongoing enquiry. The PMS team has concluded that the Hindu Ekta Manch is opposing the SIT on communal lines, which is no ground at all. Anyway the SIT neither has a uniform religious composition nor is it completely from Kashmir, as the Manch leaders alleged before the Team. The IG Crime informed the Team that the SIT is being supervised by SSP Jammu Shri Ramesh Kumar Jhala and consists of SP Jammu Ms Shwetambari, Inspector Kamal Kishore of Jammu, Adl SP. Kashmir Mr. Nabeed Perzada and Deputy SP Jammu Shri Nissar Shah.
The Team went to Kathua region to the house of the girl child which falls in the jungle near Village Rasaana. They met her parents (adoptive), the families of the accused in Rasaana Village, other residents of the village, members of the Hindu Ekta Manch who had come in from other villages on hearing about the Team’s presence and also activists of the All Tribal Confederation of J&K. They returned to Jammu and met the senior police officials as well as a senior journalist, the lawyer of Asifa’s parents and women activists as democratic organizations had also taken out a march against the communalization of the incident. The Report records that the girl child belonged to a nomad Bakkarwal (Gujjar) family which spends six months a year in this region and returns after that to Kashmir for the next 6 months. The girl’s parents, like other nomads, take land on lease for their period of stay in order to graze their animals and have been doing so for years together. In addition, this family had bought two acres of land in the outskirts of Rasaana village from a Rajput landlord of nearby Kuta village in 2002 and constructed a small dwelling here in 2004 for their periodic stay. The rest of the families in the village Rasaana are all Brahmins, all own land and are all inter related.
In their Press Conference to release the Report, the team members said that when they passed through Rasaana Village to go to the jungle to meet the girl child’s parents, first their vehicle was stopped by the local police who demanded proof of identities. Later it was surrounded by the villagers and other members of the Hindu Ekta Manch. After they had met the murdered girl’s family, the team members went to the homes of the accused where a large gathering of around 70 people, including activists of the Hindu Ekta Manch from surrounding villages, spoke to them. Such activists included lawyers and professors.
The Report states that the murdered child’s mother informed them that the girl used to take live stock for grazing but did not return on the evening of 10th January. The parents spent the night looking for her among the families of others of the tribe who live some distance away. The mother went to lodge a report at the Hiranagar thana on 11th morning but was sent back by the Registrar. She returned there on 12th January and was able to lodge the FIR only on that date. Activists of the All Tribal Confederation told the Team that the villagers of Rasana did not allow the family to bury the dead body in the village and it was buried far away in Kanha village. They also said that the Bakkarwal nomads were facing difficulties in getting land on lease since the advent of the PDP-BJP Govt. and the Forest Minister was trying to grab the jungle lands. In a way this was substantiated by the statements of the Hindu Manch members that they were being targeted because they had started giving their lands to members of other nomadic communities i.e. the Sippies (some of the nomadic tribes follow Hindu religion) only because the Bakkarwals do not pay the lease amounts. The landlords are finding it difficult to do agriculture due to high costs so they earn from the land by leasing it to the nomads. It was also learnt that when the Bakkarwal nomads learnt of the murder (they had gathered at village Kuta for a social occasion), they spread the word in their own community. On the chautha ceremony of the child they took out a rally demanding justice, which was brutally lathi charged by the local police when it crossed through Rasaana Village. They said that the local police as well as the perpetrators had taken it for granted that Asifa’s family, being poor and resourceless, would not be able to fight for justice. However, programmes in support of justice were held in many parts of Jammu and even in the state capital. They stated, but could give no proof, that Sanjhi Patwari had spent time in the RSS head Quarters in Nagpur. The body of the little girl, they said, bore marks of brutalization, torture, sexual assault and crush injuries.
The PMS team has recorded that they were shown two photographs by the IG Crime, Jammu to explain to them why two policemen have been arrested as accused in this case. In the first photograph the dead and brutalized body of the girl child can be seen clothed in a blood stained and mud stained frock. The second photograph shows the same frock but it is spotless and totally clean- this was the state of the frock after it was taken off the body and just before it was sealed to be sent for forensic examination. The two policemen have been thus arrested for destruction of evidence and the IG stated that the police at Hiranagar thana had gone out of their way to destroy evidence. The other arrested include 3 boys of Rasana village-Parvesh,Shubham and Vishal (Vishal is the son of Sanjhi Patwari and another of the boys is his nephew). Sanjhi Patwari was missing at the time of the Team’s visit but it was later learnt that he had been arrested two days later.
The team met a senior journalist in Jammu city and was told that when a lady reporter went to Hiranagar thana after initial arrests to ask for the names of the accused, the police there refused to divulge the same saying it would lead to a ’Hindu-Muslim’ question. She questioned this communal manner of describing rapists and murderers. The women journalist and teachers severely criticized the ‘delegitimizing’ the rape and murder of a little girl child body by misusing the violence done against her body for communal polarization by the Hindu Ekta Manch.
It is tragic that the communal politics of Hindutva are being played out using the body of a girl child. The team has supported the demand of the democratic activists that protection should be extended to the murdered child’s parents. Earlier this family and other families of nomads in the surrounding villages were denied access to Govt. water sources by the Hindu Ekta Manch and the Govt. agencies took no action.
The team members also reported that members of the Hindu Sena who are demanding release of the accused are asserting that the arrest of the alleged guilty is part of a move towards ‘’changing the demography of the region’’. It is both tragic and absurd to drown the murder of and sexual violence on a girl child in communal hell fire such twisted fashion. Demographic change actually is not unknown in Jammu- it is what Hari Singh, erstwhile king of the state, facilitated through his army during the partitioning India by a massacre of Muslims, triggering mass displacement from Muslim majority districts of Jammu. Kathua was one such region. It is also being confidently stated by the Hindu Manch that such a ghastly crime can never be committed by Hindus because they ‘’worship kanyas’’; one is left speechless considering that all over the country are regular incidents perpetrated by people from different religions and which render this assertion a total lie. In fact, often the victims also are of the same religion! The Hindu Ekta Manch activists and the relatives of the arrested spoke of ‘brutal torture’ and of ‘Hindu families’ living in fear of arrests, but eventually said only the three arrested boys had been taken for questioning. They also offered to show the Team videos of the nomads’ rally raising slogans of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ as it passed through Rasaana village but could not show such a video, though they had videos of the rally.
The Team members also demanded that POCSO be notified in the state of J&K. It is heinous indeed that in a state where due to a law like AFSPA so much violence against women’s bodies is denied justice, the so elected Govts of the state over the years and including the present Govt of the state have not deemed it necessary to give the shelter of this law to their children. The same applies to the Forest Rights Act, which has not been extended here and due to which, as per a memorandum submitted by All Tribe Coordination of J&K to the State Govt., a Minister in the J&K Govt. who is a MLA from Jammu region, is steadily encroaching forest lands and is complicit in attempting to drive out the nomadic tribes who graze their livestock in these regions.
The team noted that initially the police had promptly arrested a 15 year old nomad (Bakkarwal) youth (servant of tribal) and another tribal (his tribe follows Hindu religion) and held them responsible for the heinous act as the sniffer dog had initially gone to their house before heading off to the final point. During police questioning the two disclosed that they suddenly found the body lying among their animals and took fright. They placed the body in the jungle and then went to inform the dead child’s father. For suspecting the 15 year old nomad youth and for all acts of the police which are against Muslims the Hindu Manch praises the police. However, the moment their own members are touched, the Manch promptly condemns the police. They are not at all apologetic about defending policemen who misused their position to destroy evidence to defend people of their religion. This is a very strange stand.
The team has held that the current High Court supervised SIT enquiry should continue. Especially in the light of destruction of evidence, the team has demanded that scientific methods of investigation should be fully brought into use to establish the facts before the charge sheet is filed. It opposed the deliberate communalization of the brutal rape and murder of a girl child.