Since when asking for a CBI inquiry has become communal politics and shielding the ‘rapists’?
On 17 January 2018, the dead body of a child murdered was reported in the forest near Rasana village in district Kathua. Kathua is in Jammu province, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Generally, a dead body found anywhere in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, that too in a remote forest, far away from the hustle and bustle, and media, is no big deal. But, this was going to be a big deal.
Big deal, not because it was winter and the entire state government was in Jammu, the winter capital. Not even because the state Legislative Assembly was in session, in Jammu. The bigger reason was that the body was of an eight-year-old Asifa, adopted daughter of Mohammad Yusuf. She was reported missing a week ago, on 10 January. Mohammad Yusuf is a nomad tribal. In Jammu and Kashmir, they are called Bakerwals. For such tribes and other “settlers”, Mehbooba Mufti had passed a law called Roshni Act. Under this Act they could occupy government and forest land in the state, pretty much as they pleased. To her much embarrassment, this Act was challenged and a stay on the Act was granted by the state High Court. Kathua is one of the rare districts in the Muslim-majority state that still has an overwhelmingly Hindu population.
As soon as the Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, gets to know of the murder, she dispatches two of her ministers, Mian Altaf and Zulfiqar Choudhry, to Rasana. Also went rushing to the area some sundry Hurriyat activists. Rasana is a small hamlet of barely 25 families, all Hindus. Suresh Gautam, the local SHO, Hiranagar, had already registered a case and had begun investigations. The ministers and the Hurriyat activists begin to find out the names of the activists and mobilisers among this small population of Rasana and the surrounding region. They didn’t stop at just that. Now, Suresh Gautam started getting suggestions and leads on who to summon, who to question, who to detain and pretty much how to investigate. Meanwhile, the body of dead Asifa was sent to Kathua district hospital for autopsy.
In barely a week into the case, the investigation is taken away from the SHO Hiranagar, Suresh Gautam. A Special Investigation Team is constituted under Additional SP Adil of Samba. Barely 10 days into the investigation, even this team is relieved of the case. Now the case is handed over to the Crime Branch to investigate. Curiously, it is not any of the Crime Branch from the three jurisdictions of Jammu, the region where the crime took place. This Crime Branch was imported from the Kashmir valley. Investigators comprised cops from even Ladakh. Only a lady from Jammu was part of the team. Even more surprising was the inclusion of ASI Irfan Wani in the investigations. 10 years ago, this gentleman was in jail for over a year. As in-charge of the Thatri police post in Doda, he was accused of a murder in his custody, and also of raping the sister of the man he murdered. Cleverly, Superintendent Ramesh Jalla, a Kashmiri Hindu, is made the head as a cover for what was to follow.
Not just the investigating teams, the autopsy report too leaves much to be desired. There is no sign of rape or even a sexual assault. Dr Mukul, who conducted the postmortem, is under considerable pressure to look again, and again. Just a murder, even if of a girl barely eight years old, is not as macabre, perhaps. Imagine the revulsion it will evoke if a rape is added. And, what if it is a gang-rape!
The Crime Branch from Kashmir starts working to its mandate. The entire village is in their veritable siege. No home is spared. Every family is targeted. People are randomly picked. Third degree is the routine. Humiliation, torture and terror unleashed are of an unprecedented intensity. Within 15 days, the results begin to show. The entire village empties out. They took refuge in the Ramlila grounds of the Kootah area. They were not spared there either. 150 of them were arrested by the Hiranagar police. First the Prohibitory Orders were issued and then all were picked up for violating Section 144. This included the former sarpanches—Kant Kumar and Baghmal Khajuria. They protest. The Chief Minister tweets to mock at the people carrying a Tricolour in support of the rapists. Almost a case-study kind of example in crime investigation was being evolved.
While all this is on, the Chief Minister, on 14 February, presides over a meeting of her Tribal Welfare Department. Among her several instructions is the one which says that the Jammu Kashmir police should not lend its assistance to help vacate the government or forest lands illegally occupied by the squatters and grabbers. This is notwithstanding the Roshni Act stayed by the High Court.
Now the charge-sheet is out. The scene of crime is a temple. This is where the poor baby was supposedly held captive for five days. This temple is a one-room structure with three windows, two of which are broken and completely expose the insides of the room. Never mind the fact that Asifa’s both parents were murdered over a property dispute. Never mind the fact that she herself had inherited a big estate and her own death had several potential beneficiaries. Never mind the fact that an over 60-year-old retired government revenue official is supposed to have asked his son, who is in the middle of his exams, at Meerut, to come home for a day to “satisfy his lust”. And, is it only incidental that this man has been persuading everyone around not to sell their lands to Muslims as a demographic invasion of the entire Jammu region was on? How dare he!? And how dare the accused SPOs be so active against bovine smugglers? They needed to be fixed too. Never mind that no medical records and reports were attached with the charge-sheet that churns out a gut wrenching story capturing every macabre detail.
While the carefully chosen Crime Branch busy putting together the charge-sheet, on 16 March, in nearby Nagrota, one Shahbeena Akhtar, another minor girl was raped and murdered by Moulvi Shahnawaz of her own madrasa. No outpouring of outrage is witnessed. Nobody is willing to recall how a rape and murder was manufactured and pasted on security forces not too long ago, in Shopian. There the doctor who conducted the autopsy replaced her own vaginal swabs to concoct the evidence. But what will it take to stop our TV debate warriors from their swallow and vomit style journalism? And, since when, pray, asking for a CBI inquiry has become communal politics and shielding the “rapists”?
* This article is a pure concoction based on fiction. Any resemblance with any character or event is unintentional and coincidental.