Kathua Case: Fault-lines and Apprehensions

Will the Kathua fallout lead to President's rule in Jammu and Kashmir?

Will the Kathua fallout lead to President's rule in Jammu and Kashmir?
Is the Kathua case forcing the BJP ministers to take a stand?

As this post was being readied, news has come that the entire team of BJP ministers in the J&K government has resigned.

Timeline of the incident

The gory details of the alleged rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in a village in Jammu province, as delineated in the charge sheet submitted by the investigation team of the Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir on April 9, 2018, are nauseating.  They have shocked the collective conscience of society, with much angst spilling out on the streets and through the social media. One can only empathise with the pain and trauma of the child who went missing in the jungle; her lifeless body was recovered from the bushes of the same jungle after almost a week.

The truth must come out about what happened to the child from the afternoon of January 10 to January 17, 2018, when her lifeless body was discovered. Why did the Police fail to file a charge sheet for three months?

It was on January 10, 2018, that the child from Rassana village of Kathua district, Jammu, went missing after going to graze horses. Her mud-laden body was noticed by a local in the bushes of the jungle on January 17, in a crumpled state.

However, one is saddened to note that the focus of a vocal section of the public is not on justice for the victim and her family. Instead, the murder and alleged rape are being given a communal colour, with an over-enthusiastic media pronouncing judgment on the issue. The communalisation, polarisation, and politicisation around the tragedy have vitiated the atmosphere, creating doubts if the victim shall ever get justice.

Meanwhile, a demand for a CBI inquiry has been raised in many quarters, on the lines of the Unnao (UP) rape case. An intense debate is on regarding whether the media should have disclosed the identity and picture of the victim with such vengeance all over the social media; in fact, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court has taken suo moto cognizance of this wilful departure from the law and issued notice to media houses which defied the law. Sadly, the misuse of the child’s name and photograph to whip up a public frenzy continued for at least 48 hours thereafter.

A threadbare analysis of material in the public domain may help us to understand whether the hope for justice in this case will be realised or it has become a political tool for some vested interests. The religion of the child is not pertinent here, and it is wrong to presume that the perpetrators belong to another community.

 Three Investigation Teams in 21 Days

Hiranagar (Kathua) Police began the first investigation immediately after the parents reported the child missing. Further investigation was conducted by another team. Finally, the case was handed over to the Crime Branch of the State Police on January 22, 2018. A huge disparity is visible in the handling and reporting of the case at different stages of the investigation. Different versions of the case have been documented in the process.

A Kashmir newspaper published a news item[1] on January 19, 2018 with the headline “15-year old boy accused of murdering Kathua girl is arrested”. It quoted Minister for Revenue and Parliamentary Affairs, Abdul Rehman Veeri, commenting in the State Assembly that the “accused has confessed to the crime” and has also admitted that he had “kidnapped the minor girl and put her in nearby cowshed at village Rassana, where he attempted to rape her and when she resisted, he killed her by way of strangulation.” Apparently, there is no rape at this stage, let alone gang rape. The Minister said that further investigations are on.

However, the charge sheet submitted by the Crime Branch on April 9, 2018, after more than three months, has clearly named some more persons as accused, including four police officials, in alleged gang rape and murder.

Composition of the team

Eyebrows have been raised at the inclusion of a tainted officer, Irfan Vani, in the investigating team. In 2007, he himself was an accused in the custodial death of a minor in his custody and rape of the deceased’s minor sister. Charges of separatist appeasement have also been leveled by people and political parties on the State administration in constituting the team.

Discrepancy in timeline and police inactivity

The father has repeatedly said that he reported the matter to the police on January 11, 2018, but the charge sheet mentions the date as January 12, 2018. As per the charge sheet, the girl was murdered on January 13, but there is no medical evidence to support the claim that she was killed four days before her body was discovered in the jungle.

Father of the girl has accused the police of laxity during January 12-17, 2018 in tracing his missing daughter, despite the missing report registered. A Lookout Notice for the Girl appeared in a local newspaper four days after the dead body was already found and buried. This discrepancy on the part of Police is too glaring to be ignored[2].

Has evidence been tampered with and destroyed?

The charge sheet mentions that the frock-salwar worn by the victim was washed off stains before handing over for forensic testing “with the intention to remove the clay and bloodstains/sperms etc. and thereafter forwarded the same to FSL for expert opinion.”

The charge sheet is silent on when the clothes were removed from the dead body of the victim and was the dress again put on the dead body. Did it happen before the photographs were clicked of the dead body or was it done afterward?

The charge sheet seems to be relying more on alleged motives than on evidence, which is what is needed in the Indian legal system. Nowhere can one find any evidence of the accused persons’ involvement in rape (presence of their sperm, hair, or other vital evidence). Only ‘a strand of hair’ of one accused was reportedly found at the recovery site in the bushes of the jungle.

The alleged main conspirator is reported to have made a financial trail of lakhs of rupees in cash to bribe different people, but surprisingly there is not a single evidence of the financial trail detailed in the charge sheet; such as, from where and when the cash was procured in such a small village of 25 houses.

The charge sheet is full of typo errors which can be ignored, but even dates are not correctly recorded, one has to ponder its overall veracity. The report mentions that the case diary was handed over to the Special Investigation Team on 27.10.2018. “However, the case diary was formally handed over to Crime Branch Jammu by Shri Adil Hamid Ganai, ASP Samba, In-charge of earlier SIT constituted by IGP Jammu Zone on 27-10-2018 at 19.00 hrs in person at Crime Branch, Jammu.” That’s October. If it is a typing mistake, it means January. Both dates are impossible. This is a vital error in such an important legal document[3].

The charge sheet mentions that the accused Vishal Jangotra came to Rassana on January 12, 2018, and raped the victim at 8.30 am the same day at receiving a phone call from one of the accused the previous night inviting him to his village to fulfill his lust. The accused Vishal claims he was giving an examination that day, from 10.00 am -1.00 pm in Muzaffarpur, Uttar Pradesh[4].

The charge sheet mentions that the accused “in order to make sure that the victim is dead, hit her twice on head with stone”, whereas the photograph of the victim’s dead body circulated widely in media shows no sign of head injury and the hairband is still intact on her head, in addition to her shoes.

The family members claimed that the victim’s lips were bitten and during the gusul (final bath) the women of the family had seen mutilated genital parts, but these find no mention in the charge sheet[5].

The dead body of the victim was found in the bushes on January 17, 2018, and the father claims they had searched the bushes several times through the days while she was missing. According to him, it was freshly dumped there before it was discovered by a local, whereas the charge sheet reports the body was dumped on January 15, 2018.

The victim was allegedly confined and raped for six days in Devsthan, Baba Kaliveera temple of kula devtas of the local Hindus and devotees of at least three villages visit it regularly. It is a one-room structure with multiple doors and windows, with see-through grills and concrete floor. Worshippers visit it at least twice a day to light Jyot. The dates when the girl was missing included Hindu festive days of Lohri and Makar Sankranti (January 13, 14). It seems implausible that the victim was kept there, sedated and routinely raped and not noticed by any of the regular worshippers.

The truth must come out about what happened to the child from the afternoon of January 10 to January 17, 2018, when her lifeless body was discovered. Why did the Police fail to file a charge sheet for three months? Even when it did, it was an incomplete challan and the accused did not get a copy, for which the Court reprimanded the investigating team.

A fair and free inquiry should take place lest, like the Arushi Talwar murder case, this case too becomes a media circus and the culprits have the last laugh as the body of a child becomes a political tool for emotional manipulation and harvesting of outrage3.

Note:
1. Greater Kashmir website has deleted this post from their site. When you click on [1] below, you will be taken to a backup page where the post still exists.

References:

[1] 15-year-old boy accused of murdering Kathua girl arrested: GovtJan 19, 2018, GreaterKashmir.com

[2] Rape, murder of 8-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir gets murkierFeb 2, 2018, ATimes.com

[3] Raped, sedated, rape ‘one last time’: Chilling details from Kathua chargesheetApr 11, 2018, IndiaToday.in

[4] Kathua khaand: Accused was in UP taking an examApr 14, 2018, AmarUjala.com

[5] India: Nationwide Protests After Rape of 8-Year-Old Muslim GirlApr 12, 2018, TeresurTV.net

Prerna Malhotra

The writer teaches at Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi.

Latest posts by Prerna Malhotra (see all)

12 COMMENTS

    • Instead of doing fair reporting, media these days has become judgmental and passes verdict immediately. This is what happened in the above cases mentioned by you. Will the media apologise now from the country?

  1. Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

    • There is certainly more vulnerability of denial of justice in the conditions mentioned by you but we should be relieved that Indian judicial system is still one of the best in the world and we Indians largely have faith in the judiciary. That is why a reasonable demand for a fair probe is being made by sections of the society.

      • Indian judicial system is one of the best in the world???? Based on what parameters, Ma’am. Kindly explain the statement. I think S. Swami will not agree with you given his wisdom n experience of investigation n judicial system in India.

  2. All hindus from jammu demand CBI inquiry, are they all rapist defender, even the couart has not given any verdict. Why media is only busy to one side of coin, why they don’t show other side of coin as well, when the prosecutor are more open to victim.

    The prosecutor are ready to take any test(like narco), they also want CBI inquiry, but victim lawyer(Who is friend of shahla rashid), victim foster parents and one muslim NGO community refuse CBI inquiry. Why?

    Why mehbooba mufti don’t pass this matter in CBI hand, since this is now nation issue. When she was in opposite, she always demand CBI, but not right now.

    Stop hunting minority in jammu, they can’t live in kashmir valley, but atleast give them fair Judiciary.

    • Media and state police have failed in this specific case. Anyone not following the second version of the police investigation is charged with siding with the murderers and alleged rapists. This attitude is not going to help in any way.

    • People have high expectations from the woman Chief Minister of the State where the unpardonable crime has taken place. Moreover, she was the one who had vociferously demanded CBI inquiry in the Shopian case, then now why is she avoiding a fair investigation by the CBI?

  3. Looks like we are all being fooled by a set of conspirators. If our investigating agencies don’t come out with the REAL truth quickly, and bring the culprits to book, people will lose faith in the government and judiciary.

    • Justice must prevail. In all this environment of insanity by communalisation of the entire happening, the truth must come out. The State police has lost its credibility in dealing with the case. A fair probe by an independent agency is a must.

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