‘Kathua girl’s rape and murder is being hushed up and communalised’

  • Raqib Hameed Naik
  • Publish Date: Jan 29 2018 1:40AM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 29 2018 1:40AM
‘Kathua girl’s rape and murder is being hushed up and communalised’

The activist Talib Hussain has been at the forefront of the agitation seeking justice for the eight-year-old Bakerwal child

On January 17, an eight-year-old Bakarwal girl was found dead in Rasana village of Hiranagar, Kathua district. Her family alleged she was raped and murdered. In protests that have erupted against the murder, Talib Hussain has been at the forefront. Talib, 27, left his law practice in Delhi to return home to Mansar, 62 km from Jammu, and work for securing the rights of the nomadic Gujjar and Bakerwal communities. On January 21, Talib was arrested by the police while leading a protest rally in Kathua town against the local authorities for failing to arrest the girl’s murderers and allegedly hushing up the case. He was only released the next day after outrage in the Assembly.

Talib spoke with Raqib Hameed Naik about the police’s investigation, his arrest, political intervention in the matter and how the incident was being communalised. 

 

YOU ARE UNHAPPY WITH HOW THE LOCAL AUTHORITIES HAVE HANDLED THE CASE. WHY?

The Kathua police and especially the Hiranagar Station House Officer, who has now been suspended, played a shady role in the whole episode. The girl went missing on January 10 and when her family went to file an FIR, the police officials told them come back after two days as it takes time to file an FIR, thus violating the Supreme Court’s direction which says an FIR should be filed immediately in missing persons cases. The family did not wait for two days and went back to the police station the next day. This time the FIR was registered but an SPO-rank official was designated as the investigating officer.

 

DID THE POLICE SEARCH FOR THE GIRL?

The SPO, Deepak Kumar, lives in Dhama village, which is near Rasana, and he started searching for the girl in the nearby forests where the family had already looked. He didn’t search in the locality. From January 11 to January 17, they did not take a single step to ensure that girl was found alive. Doctors have said the girl had died 24 hours before she was found, which means she was alive until January 16 and could have been saved if the police had been serious. What is more, the family was harassed during the investigation.

 

WHO HARASSED THEM?

The police. The SPO investigating the case accused the girl’s family members of making her disappear. On January 17, three people from the Gujjar community were running towards the spot where the body of the girl had been found, they came upon the SPO was passing through the same area. He stopped them, abused them and harassed them for half an hour before letting them off. This is the behaviour of the police with the Gujjars.

 

WHAT PROMPTED THE COMMUNITY TO PROTEST?

The police and the SDM of Kathua promised us on January 17 they would crack the case within 24 hours. Two days passed and nothing happened. So we went again to the police station. There, the DSP in charge again promised to crack the case overnight and later they told us they had arrested a 15-year-old boy. But we were not satisfied. That’s when we decided to protest.

 

WHY WERE YOU NOT SATISFIED WITH THE ARREST?

The circumstantial evidence shows the girl was raped and then murdered. Three of her ribs were broken, a leg fractured, and there were bites marks all over her body. An attempt had been made to crush her with stones and she had marks as if she had been given electric shocks. We asked the police how it was possible for a 15-year-old boy to single-handedly commit such a brutal crime. Let’s assume that it was done by a single person, but then the police also claim that she was kept in a cattle shed.  How is it possible to hide a girl in a cattle shed for seven days without anyone noticing? The cattle shed belongs to one Sanji Sharma and the arrested person, who the police say is a juvenile, is his nephew. We have been saying since the beginning that the owner of cattle shed is involved, but nobody is listening.

WHAT HAPPENED DURING YOUR PROTEST RALLY ON THE JAMMU-PATHANKOT HIGHWAY ON JANUARY 21, WHEN YOU WERE ARRESTED?

We were marching peacefully when the police came and started beating us with batons without any reason. Many protesters were injured. The deputy commissioner and the SSP of Kathua were there. While being bundled into a police van, I was also beaten with batons.

 

WERE YOU PRESSURED TO GO SOFT WHILE YOU WERE IN POLICE CUSTODY?

I was locked up in the Kathua police station. The policemen there did not beat me, but they constantly asked me not to speak up and questioned why I was talking about the local BJP legislator’s involvement in the case. They were saying they would release me immediately if I went soft on them and let them do their work, which I was not hindering in anyway. I might have been booked under the Public Safety Act had the people not rallied behind me.

 

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THE BJP LEGISLATOR’S INVOLVEMENT?

After the police made the arrest, the Hiranagar MLA, Kuldeep Raj Verma, went to the police station and told the SHO to “take care of the boy’s age”. I was told this by a witness who was in the police station at the time. The MLA wanted to use the accused’s age as a shield in the case. Besides, the incident is being given a communal colour.

 

HOW SO?

On January 21, we protested at Chann Morian chowk in Kathua town and the non-Muslim community there stood with us. They even hid protesters in their homes when the police started beating us. Today, the same people are warning our people not to fill water from hand pumps installed by the government in their localities; they have even blocked water supply to Rasana. This shows that the incident is being communalised.

 

YOU HAVE BEEN SAYING THE GOVERNMENT IS TRYING TO “CONFUSE THE PEOPLE” ABOUT THIS CASE. WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

The government is buying the local police’s story that a 15-year-old boy was behind it all. As a result, other people of whose involvement we have strong evidence are being shielded. Also, there has not been a single word about the tragedy from the Union Minister of State Jitendra Singh, who is an MP from Udhampur Lok Sabha constituency which includes Kathua, or from the deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh, who is also from Kathua.

 

WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE DEMANDS YOU HAVING BEEN AGITATING FOR?

The names of the accused should be made public and they should be given the death penalty. We asked for a judicial investigation but the government instead gave the case to the Crime Branch, in which we have no faith. The matter was being investigated by Adil Raja, additional superintendent of police, Samba, and we were cooperating with his team and it was making progress. So, this sudden transfer of case to the Crime Branch raises grave doubts. We feel that it is being done to shield the accused and also save the political people who were trying to interfere in the investigation.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR APPREHENSIONS?

The Kathua police are working under pressure from both political and communal forces. We believe that the BJP and other communal forces are backing Sanji Sharma and the other accused. This issue is being given a communal colour so as to consolidate their vote bank. We also feel the involvement of other agencies in the investigation is merely a tactic to destroy the evidence against the accused.

 

SO, WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO DO NOW?

As of now, we are waiting for the report of the Additional SP’s team. If we are not satisfied with it, we will approach the courts and seek a judicial probe. We will also launch a statewide agitation if justice is not delivered to the family.