VIEWPOINT

An 8-year old Bakherwal Muslim girl went missing on January 10, 2018 in Jammu’s Rasana village in Kathua district. Her battered body was recovered by the local police a week later. She was kidnapped, drugged with Epitril (used for treating seizures and panic attacks) kept in captivity at Devisthan temple, repeatedly raped by at least three men over five days, later strangled and hit with rocks twice to ensure that she had died.

 Dead little girls don’t tell tales!

 In the aftermath of the crime, the Bakherwal community launched an agitation hoping for justice. During a protest in February 150 of them were arrested. After the Special Investigation Team set up by the Mufti government had completed its investigation, the charge sheet filing process was met with protests by lawyers and a group called the Hindu Ekta Manch that was set up by local politicians and backed by two BJP MLA’s Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga. The Manch also asked for the case to be transferred to the CBI, no doubt believing that the closer an investigating body is to the central government, the better the chances of such a case being dismissed. In the Rasana case, the young girl was murdered to serve the larger political interests of Hindus that considered the land on which the nomadic Bakherwals (a Scheduled Tribe) have traditionally grazed their animals, as their land. The criminal conspiracy was hatched to drive the tribe from this land.

 The charge sheet for this case is 15 pages long. It includes the timeline, the names of the perpetrators, and the manner of sexual assault and killing. It cites a post-mortem report that confirms rape and a forensic report from New Delhi that also confirmed that the child had been confined to Devisthan temple. The cause of death is listed as “asphyxia leading to cardio-pulmonary arrest”.

Based on the forensic evidence mentioned in the charge sheet there is no doubt that here is a case which needs to be subject to the procedure of law. While it is shocking that lawyers tried to block the presentation of the charge sheet to the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Kathua district, it is also something we have come to expect as a society. Our state has historically acted faster to protect its own when challenged by civil society. In this same week, the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh withdrew a rape case registered in 2011 against Union Minister Chinmayanand. Similarly, the BJP’s Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the main accused in the Unnao rape case is still able to pressure the victim’s father to drop the case, and, allegedly have the father beaten in police custody by his brother, leading to yet another custodial death.

However, what is more troubling in recent times is the mobilisation of mobs to obstruct the process of justice. In 2013 Asaram Bapu’s arrest for rape was marked by clashes between police, journalists and his disciples that were guarding his ashram in Indore. In 2017, the guilty verdict handed down to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, Guru Ram Rahim, was met with rioting by thousands of followers in Haryana, Punjab and some areas of New Delhi.

There are a few observations I will make here specifically about the Rasana rape case. First, when the due process of law or procedure laid down by law are politicized, law is reduced to a handmaiden of personalised party politics. Second, justice is compromised in a society where state officials (like Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria in the Rasana case) act like criminals, collude with criminals, protect criminals, and, work against the interests of common interests. Third, we need to re-think the role of mobs that act under the cloak of “protest” but actually are scuttling the judicial process backed by strong political interests. As I have argued in The Telegraph, mobs have never worked to unite, only to disrupt and divide through their monopoly over the use of collective public violence. Under the current administration, mobs have occupied a particular pride of place. They have successfully undertaken the task of polarising society even at the level of neighbourhoods within a city and districts within states.

Fourth, the Rasana case combines the elements not only of rape, kidnapping, illegal imprisonment and so on, but at a fundamental level it lays bare the blatant abuse of power by local state officials. In this case, Deepak Khajuria (the Special Police Officer and one of the rapists), Tilak Raj (Head Constable) and Anand Dutta (Sub-Inspector) took payments from Sanji Ram (a main accused) and conducted an incomplete and botched investigation, tampered with evidence, and coached a juvenile witness into giving false testimony.

How can India protect its women and minors when the state that is charged with protecting them, and the society that surrounds them, does not believe that they are worthy of protection? And, can a state that has itself committed sexual crimes in Manipur and Kashmir in the name of protecting the integrity of India, truly give justice to victims of sexual assault? How can so many Indians ask for justice for the Rasana victim, while simultaneously supporting the army’s actions in Kashmir, which have not once, but several times led to sexual assault and rape of local women.

Decades ago, Frankel and Rao had argued that in India local structures of dominance tended to overwhelm local state power in some states. We can modify this argument to fit contemporary India – state power now collaborates and colludes with local structures of dominance in most states. And this bromance between policemen, politicians, and, rich local men, has virtually ensured that justice is just another tool to safeguard their entitlements.

(Vasundhara Sirnate Drennan is the Director of Research at The Polis Project Inc.)

 

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