8-year-old victim is Muslim, all 8 accused Hindu
SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI, India: India’s top court on Friday took note of the conduct of lawyers’ associations in the rape and murder case of a minor girl in Jammu and Kashmir.
Some 40 lawyers in Kathua district, located in south of the valley, were charged with criminal offense on Monday when they tried to block the police from entering a courtroom to file a charge sheet in the rape and murder of the eight-year-old.
The incident has revealed the religious fault lines in India’s only Muslim majority state where a pro-independence movement since 1989 is brimming.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra sought answers from the Bar Council of India, state bar council, Jammu High Court Bar Association and Kathua district bar association by April 19.
According to the charge sheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir police in the case, the girl was gang-raped thrice inside a temple in Hiranagar in Kathua.
The girl went missing from near her house in Rasana on Jan. 10 and her body was found seven days later in the forests nearby.
The mastermind of the gang rape and murder, according to police investigation, is a retired official from the state’s revenue department, Sanji Ram, who is also the custodian of the temple where the crime took place.
– ‘Attempt to scare Muslims’
Ram asked his nephew to kidnap the girl who “often comes to the forests behind their house for grazing her horses”.
Sanji Ram is among the eight arrested, along with his son Vishal Jangotra and his nephew, all of whom, according to the police, raped the girl.
Others who have been arrested include Special Police Officers Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar, a Rasana resident Parvesh Kumar, Assistant Sub-inspector of Police Anand Dutta and Head Constable Tilak Raj. Dutta and Raj were arrested on charges of attempting to destroy evidence after taking bribes from Ram.
According to the police charge sheet, the gang rape was committed to scare the nomadic Muslim community and force them into fleeing the Hindu dominated district.
The case took a communal turn when an outfit called Hindu Ekta Manch was set up by politicians in support of the accused and those arrested by the police. Among those who backed the Hindu outfit are two serving ministers from the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party, Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga.
The situation worsened when the Jammu Bar Council too supported the accused and refused to accept the investigation carried out by the state police, asking instead for a fresh enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a federal investigative agency.
Hundreds of Hindu lawyers and supporters of the accused took to the streets several times in the past week threatening to launch an agitation if the case was not handed over to the CBI. The protesters waved Indian flags and shouted patriotic and religious slogans.
– Ruling party in tough spot
The reaction of the right-wing ruling party to the incident has come as another blow to its coalition in the state with the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, which calls for self-rule.
“The Law will not be obstructed by the irresponsible actions and statements of a group of people. Proper procedures are being followed, investigations are on the fast track and justice will be delivered,” said Mehbooba Mufti, chief minister of the state. She also said that she would push for a new law that makes death penalty mandatory for rapists of minors.
She, however, is under intense criticism for not ousting the two ruling party ministers from her cabinet after they attended the rallies supporting the eight accused.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
The two countries have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
Also, in Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire came into effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.–AA