The fabricated and incendiary tales about the still unknown events surrounding the tragic death of an eight-year-old girl in Rassana village, district Kathua, Jammu province, are beginning to unravel.
Despite changing the investigation team thrice, the State has not been able to establish a case that can stand in court.
Since the discovery of her body on Jan. 17, a nine-year-old boy was found dead three days after he went missing from Bari Brahmana in Samba on March 4, where he was attending a religious congregation. A seven-year-old girl was raped at a madrasa in Katal Battal, Jammu, on March 12, 2018. Maulvi Shahnawaz, a native of West Bengal, has been arrested. This was the third incident in 2018 of minor children being victimised in Jammu region. But the latter two did not get the attention reserved for the Kathua murder.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who forced the two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers who supported the demand of Kathua residents for an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the Rassana murder to resign, used the BJP’s keenness to preserve the alliance to press the Centre for further concessions, warning that the Valley was headed for “chaos” if measures were not taken to contain the anger and discontent of its youth.
At a meeting on April 15, BJP leaders asked the Chief Minister to withdraw her government’s directive to the police to ignore anti-encroachment drives against nomads without prior approval of the Tribal Affairs Department. This was seen in Jammu as an attempt to “change the demography of Jammu”. Though BJP has since asked all its ministers in the coalition to resign and pave the way for a cabinet reshuffle, the settlement of Bakkarwals in Jammu forest regions could still become a sticking point.
Ironically, the Kashmir Crime Branch (not Jammu) version of events in Rassana began to unravel within hours of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s speech, in the presence of President Ram Nath Kovind, at the 6th convocation at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University on April 18, 2018. In a strong speech, she said, “it is very shocking that such a heinous crime was committed with a female child considered as “the living form of mata” inside a temple”, in a city where girls are worshipped as an incarnation of Goddess Durga.
This is a highly irresponsible statement. First, it puts an entire community in the dock for a crime that is happening all over the country. Second, it fixes the Devi Sthan of Rassana as the crime scene, when that story is unsustainable. Irate villages have made video clips of the Devi Sthan to show that it has no basement as alleged, and has grilled open windows, which make everything inside visible to all. Finally, anyone with an iota of decency would know that Hindus do not have sex, let alone rape, in the presence of their divinities.
Despite changing the investigation team thrice, the State has not been able to establish a case that can stand in court. The third police team claims to have found a single strand of the victim’s hair at the alleged crime scene, but no traces of blood have been detected, which is inconceivable in a victim of such tender age. The issues of semen swabs (there should be multiple semen) and blood toxicology report (if sedated, as alleged) have been avoided; at least there is no mention in the charge sheet, though a certain medicine has been mentioned as the drug used for sedation. It would be criminal negligence on the part of the Police if these pieces of evidence are missing because a child that goes missing and is found dead seven days later would almost certainly have been abused.
The child went missing on January 10, and in the interregnum, three villages celebrated Lohri and Makar Sankranti at the Devi Sthan, so the child could hardly have been concealed in that small space. As the initial confusion clears, it appears that the body was found at a location in the jungle, midway between the Devi Sthan and the house of Sanji Ram (now the main accused), among bushes close to the beaten pathway (pakh-dandi). The body was easy to locate if someone was looking for it, and was likely thrown the same day, or it would have been found earlier, according to local reports.
Curiously, the media has made only cursory mention of a minor accused who sought bail before the Kathua Sessions judge, in the same crime. This 15-year-old boy was arrested the day after the child’s body was found, and Minister for Revenue & Parliamentary Affairs, Abdul Rehman Veeri, told the Jammu & Kashmir legislative assembly that the accused had confessed to the crime.
Veeri claimed that the investigation by the Special Investigation Team headed by SDPO (Border) Chadwal revealed that the accused had kidnapped the child and put her in a cowshed at village Rassana, where he attempted to rape her; when she resisted, he strangled her. The cattle shed theory has since been discredited.
In recent days, however, the investigation was expanded to include this boy’s 62-year-old uncle, Sanji Ram; his 22-year-old son, Vishal Jangotra; friend Parvesh Kumar alias Mannu; Special Police Officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma, and Assistant Sub Inspector Anand Dutta and Head Constable Tikarad.
When Vishal Jangotra said he was appearing for his B.Sc. Part I exam at KK Jain College, Khatauli, at the time of the alleged rape, media alleged that a proxy candidate wrote the exam on his behalf. Meerut Police have, however, established that Vishal Jangotra of Aakanksha College, Meeranpur, appeared for the exam at Khatauli, UP. The idea that a village boy from Kathua can conspire with the chairman of a University in Uttar Pradesh to falsify records is too absurd to be countenanced.
Whatever the truth, if ever established, there is little doubt that the case has become a political standoff between predominantly Muslim Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu, with Kashmir trying to establish total dominance over Jammu, to the extent of deliberately interfering with its demography. This is an issue the BJP will have to factor in while deciding its future course in the State, as Mehbooba Mufti no longer enjoys popular support and cannot bring any electoral dividend.
The critical issues relate to an extremely well-funded settlement of Rohingyas in Jammu region rather than with their co-religionists in Kashmir; sharp increase in bovine smuggling from Jammu; and the controversial circular of February 14, 2018 by the Tribal Affairs Department, chaired by the Chief Minister, virtually scuttling anti-encroachment measures against (Muslim) Gujjars and Bakerwals in the forests of Jammu.
It is pertinent that former revenue official Sanji Ram was in the forefront of a local movement to persuade Jammu residents not to sell their property and abandon their homes under pressure, as has been happening in parts of the province in recent times. The demographic divide is possibly the only issue mentioned in the charge sheet that can stand public scrutiny.
 PDP-BJP alliance to stay, but Mehbooba warns of chaos if Valley’s youth not heard – Apr 15, 2018, The Indian Express
 15-year-old boy accused of murdering Kathua girl arrested: Govt – Jan 19, 2018, Greater Kashmir