A SPATE of rapes of minors in the recent past has led to an eruption of rage, disgust and anguish all over the country. The details of some of these crimes – the Surat rape and murder of an 11 year old, the rape and murder of a 9 year old whose mutilated body was found in Haryana, for example – are still to be revealed but the Unnao rape of a 17 year old who has named a BJP MLA as the perpetrator, the killing of her father for which the UP police and the MLA’s brother have been held guilty and sent to jail and the unimaginably brutal rape and murder of an 8 year old child in Jammu have stirred the conscience of millions.
The rape and murder of an innocent child in Kathua, Jammu is, however, a case with a difference, a case with the potential to wreak havoc in the very sensitive state of J&K and to tear apart the country’s social fabric already under so much stress. The victim belongs to a nomadic community of Muslim Gujjars, the Bakerwals who travel with their herds to the forest areas around Jammu during the winter months. They have been claiming pattas to this land under the provisions of the Forest Dwellers Act while powerful, vested interests are involved in grabbing and encroaching on this land. The presence of a BJP-PDP government in the state has, course, vitiated the atmosphere and given a license to majoritarian communal elements to initiate a campaign aimed at the forcible removal of different Muslim communities.
Sanji Ram who planned and executed the attack against the little girl was known for his hate speeches. He is a retired government officer who has constructed a small temple and acts as its priest. He convinced his juvenile nephew to carry out the abduction of the child along with his friend and also to drug her. This they did on January 10. They also raped her and she was kept confined in the temple where her agony continued for 8 days. 2 policemen also participated in this atrocity.
While the crime was being investigated, Jammu has witnessed communal feelings raised to a hysterical pitch by Sangh Parivar members including two BJP state ministers, lawyers etc. One of the ministers, Lal Singh, is himself accused of land-grabbing forest land and, therefore, opposing the Gujjars’ demands for pattas.
Things came to a head when a mob of lawyers prevented the police from filing the chargesheet in the court. It was then that the SC intervened and ensured that the chargesheet was filed and the accused arrested.
The Kathua case is a serious warning to all the citizens of our country. We have seen instance after instance of the law being subverted. Members of the Muslim minority and the dalit community have been the worst sufferers. Even so what happened in Kathua is unparalleled. The cold-blooded abduction, gang rape and brutal murder of a child and huge mobilisations in support of the criminals involved by members of the legal profession, ministers and other supporters of the Sangh Parivar, mobilisations that threaten to paralyse the justice system itself, are portents of a complete collapse of the secular and democratic framework of our polity.
This must be fought with all our strength.
(April 16, 2018)