It presages something cataclysmic is in the offing that has the potential of tearing apart the social and political fabric of the state beyond repair. It should send alarm bells ringing across the divide. Moreover, it calls for serious attention, far beyond a tweet or a post on the social media or a statement in the newspaper. In fact, the case of rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl in Kathu needs to be viewed in perspective of the fragile political situation as has been obtaining in the State. It also needs to be seen in the light of the political atmosphere that has been building up in the state, more particularly in some districts of Jammu province.
In the recent past, it was for the first time when on Thursday, a protest demonstration was held by a Hindu right-wing group in Jammu in support of the accused arrested in the rape and murder case of eight-year-old girl Asifa Bano daughter of Mohammad Yousuf, in Kathua with the Jammu and Kashmir police providing them an escort. In the history of Jammu, perhaps there is no instance when tricolor was exploited as a symbol of nationalism for defending people accused of rape. The chief minister of the state on her microblog had described it as “nothing short of desecration.’
The rape and murder of the young girl from the nomadic Bakarwal community had sparked protests in various parts of the state. It had also caused an uproar in the State Assembly and caused statements from the National Conference, Congress and other parties in the state legislature. The young girl had gone missing on 10 January 2018- the family feared that she had been abducted and filed in an FIR in the concerned Police Station. A few days later the body was found away from home in Hira Nagar, triggering anger amongst people- the Gujjars and Bakarwals. To seek justice for the girl, they blocked the Jammu-Pathankot Highway. In view of the mounting political pressure, within and outside the House the state formed a Special Investigating Team (SIT) to haul up the criminals responsible for the dastardly act. The state crime branch succeeded in solving the crime and arrested a 28-year-old SPO (special police officer,) Deepak Khajuria, posted at Police Station Hira Nagar. The Police has also arrested another SPO Surinder Kumar of Satoora Kathua in the case. It was also reported the accused SPO was also part of the investigation team. Nonetheless, whether he was part of the investigation team or not, police did a good job in solving the case and arrested the culprit.
The questions that had caught public imagination were if the crime committed by the police officer was just an act of savagery and an aberration or there was more than what meets the eyes. Some news reports had very subtly suggested that it was not simply a criminal act but a planned move “to create terror among the nomadic community living in Kathua for bringing about demographic change” in the area.
Beginning with issuing of the State Subject Certificates in Schools, to eviction of Gujjars from their settlements in Samba and many other settlements on the pretext of having occupied forest land and intimidation of nomadic sheep herds in forests the stories about the plans for bringing demographic changes in Jammu province have been rife in the media since 2014 and have also been part of the public discourse. Some political parties and civil society groups time and again expressed their deep concerns about the moves that ostensibly were aimed at changing population composition and complexion of some areas in Jammu. Nonetheless, the BJP-PDP alliance government every time came up with its own versions and rebutted the stories.
That, there was more than a simple crime behind the savage act of rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl was brought into the public domain by a local leader of Jammu Hussain pleading for the cause of nomadic communities in Jammu. ‘The crime’ alleged Hussain, ‘was perpetrated deliberately on the minor girl to scare the minuscule Muslim community in the area. It is an RSS plan to frighten four to the percent of the Muslim population in Samba and Kathua and dispossess them of their land and property.’
The coalition government would have delinked the brutal act of the rape and murder of a girl from the ‘demographic-changes-discourse’ articulated by the community leader and members of the nomadic tribes, moreover, nailed it with a rebuttal – ‘it is nothing but a figment of imagination’. But, for the rally taken out by the right-wing Hindu Ekta Munch from Ghagwal to Hiranagar in support of the accused Police Officer, with hundreds of its supporters – with women in the forefront giving it a nationalist color to it by carrying tricolors, it needs no further explanation that underneath the incident there is huge politics. Interestingly, some BJP leaders have openly come in support of the rally in support of the accused Special Officer- something very unusual in the State Politics. A New Delhi based online newspaper the wire quoted a BJP State Secretary, who heads the Ekta Munch in Hiranagar Constituency of having threatened of starting an agitation if Deepak Khajuria accused of rape and murder of eight-year-old girl is not released. Equally, he has a claim of having the support of many other leaders.
The rally in support of the accused and the politics developing around it cannot be disconnected from the larger political narrative of the state. Similarly, it cannot be delinked from ugly situations that brutalized our society at some crucial junctures in our history more particularly towards the end of the feudal rule. Had, the then political leadership not blindfolded itself to the situation obtaining in Jammu and the role that was being played by Mehr Chand Mahajan (as has been documented by veteran journalists an eyewitness Shri Ved Bhasin) perhaps the carnage could not have been of that magnitude and exodus of about half a million could have been prevented. The leadership across the political divide in the state needs to rise to the occasion and defeat the villainous forces- let there be no repeat of Autumn of 1947.
Written on 17-2-2018