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Two rapes: Howling banshees and their silence

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: Pgurus.com
Date: April 28, 2018
URL:      https://www.pgurus.com/two-rapes-howling-banshees-and-their-silence/

Here is how the narrative of two rapes diverge sharply: excessive regard for one, inexcusable indifference for the other.

Two rapes are challenging the national conscience today. The reason is not the communal identity of the victims, but the rabid communalization of the public discourse by the howling banshees of the Lutyens Brigade (a politico-ideological, not geographical entity) who initiate every episode of mass hysteria with admirable constancy and control the narrative to the exclusion of all other voices, until the concocted fable begins to crumble from its own falsity.

Both victims are minor girls of roughly the same age, viz., eight years and ten years. They could easily see each other as sisters. Both were abducted and held for some days before they were recovered – one dead, one alive.

Here the narrative diverges sharply: excessive regard for one, inexcusable indifference for the other.

By all accounts, the investigations were shoddy and cursory, until the death was given a political twist.

The eight-year-old girl was a nomad child who grazed her family’s horses in Rassana village, Kathua district, Jammu province. She went missing from the forest adjoining her family’s fairly large landholding (over 12-15 kanal) on January 10, 2018, and was found dead on January 17, close to the mud track between the village Devi Sthan and the house of Sanji Ram, declared to be the principal accused some months later.

The 10-year-old comes from a poor family; she was lured outside her home by some persons (her story is still unclear as she is still under the influence of sedatives given to her) who took her into a madrasa, where she was gang-raped for four days before the police recovered her from the premises. The medical examination has confirmed rape.

In Kathua, there are many lacunas in the police account. They took two days to register the case (Jan. 12) and made little effort to find the child, otherwise, she would not have been found five days later, in the most publicly frequented route of the village. The post-mortem report puts her death around the same time (Jan. 17), and no efforts have been made to find out where she was held for almost seven days.

The story that she was kept sedated under a small table in the Devi Sthan (abode of the clan deities of three villages) was quickly debunked by villagers who made videos showing that the temple had no basement as alleged in some television channels, and was open on three sides, with no possibility of anything inside being hidden from public gaze. Two major Hindu festivals, Lohri and Makar Sankranti, fell in the interregnum, and the temple area was heavily populated.

Given the fact that the police team investigating the murder was changed thrice in quick succession, and the first two post-mortem reports ruled out rape, doubts are being cast on the police version of events. Hence, the demand by the villagers for an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation, both to identify the guilty and do justice to the victim and to exonerate the accused whom most believe to be innocent.

By all accounts, the investigations were shoddy and cursory, until the death was given a political twist by sending a tainted and controversial police officer from Kashmir to conduct the probe. Thereafter, a single hair of the victim was found inside the Sthan (weeks after the murder); another story is that the victim was sedated with a medicine which is not sold in Kathua. It is not certain if there is a blood toxicology report from a credible laboratory. One of the accused was found to be giving exams in distant Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.

Villagers say the crime branch fiddled with the crime scene; the clothes and body of the victim were covered in mud – vital evidence that she could not have been kept at the Devi Sthan, which has a cemented floor and is washed thrice daily, so the alleged finding of a single hair of the victim lacks credibility.

In the larger interests of society, all madrasas should be regularised to ensure that they do not become sanctuaries for criminals.

Locals believe the crime is part of a larger conspiracy to frighten the few Hindu families to leave this crucial border village which is virtually on the international border – with only the forest in between – and facilitate infiltration into Jammu and alter its demographic profile with unnatural rapidity. It is to hasten this process that the State government is encouraging tribal Muslims (Bakarwals) to settle in forest lands. The timely establishment of an Army camp in the area could checkmate this conspiracy.

Another lacuna is the money trail from Sanjhi Ram to the policemen whom he is alleged to have bribed to cover the crime. No money has been recovered from the homes of the accused policemen, let alone linked to withdrawals from Sanjhi Ram’s bank account.

Above all, there is no explanation why the little girl roamed the jungle alone when a nomadic community would have huge herds of sheep to graze and would stay in groups. The horses are kept to monitor the herds while moving in the mountains. Nor could this girl be the only child in the community. Something is terribly amiss here and deserves an explanation.

Villagers suspect the State Government because of the credentials of the officers deputed to make the case one of rape-cum-murder. Sub Inspector Irfan Wani, one of the SIT members, was arrested in 2007 for the alleged murder of one Rishi Kumar, an alleged rape of the latter’s sister, in Doda, in 2007 (he was acquitted in 2011). Now, another Investigating Officer, Dy Superintendent Nissar Hussain Shah, is accused of destroying crucial evidence in a case during his tenure in the State Vigilance Organization; he was suspended and withdrawn from the investigation (FIR number 20/2005) under the Prevention of Corruption Act, registered with Police Station Vigilance Organization Jammu.

In the Gazipur case, a 10-year-old girl from Delhi was recovered from a madrasa on April 21, 2018. There was a spontaneous protest by locals and police swung into action; the medical examination confirmed rape and one accused, whom she was able to name, was arrested.

The family members of the victim and some social activists met the Delhi Police Commissioner and urged that given the gravity of the offense against a minor, the charge sheet in the case should be submitted at the earliest. As the victim has alleged that three or four men were involved in the crime, the other accused also must be booked and arrested, including the Maulvi of the madrasa without whose complicity the crime would not be possible.

A Special Investigation Team is necessary to expedite the investigation and the victim and her family should be given speedy justice through a Fast Track Court (FTC). The prosecution must seek maximum punishment for the guilty under the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance 2018.

Given the place of recovery of the girl child, it is imperative that the UP administration also investigate the registration and other details of the impugned madrasa. In fact, in the larger interests of society, all madrasas should be regularised to ensure that they do not become sanctuaries for criminals.

A crime, like terror, has no religion, there was no need for anyone else to assume the burden of any shame.

So we have two rapes – one alleged at a later date to serve a certain narrative, which is sped through a specific trajectory and becomes a national and even international cause célèbre. The UN Secretary-General and International Monetary Fund chief mentioned it in the admonition of India, some prestigious American newspapers and websites ran stories on it, though the very charge is contestable. Indeed, as anxieties grow regarding a larger agenda at play, one fears the tragic murder of the child may get swamped in service of political goals.

The second rape is a medically confirmed crime. Yet it was only the visit by the local MP, Mahesh Giri, to the home of the victim family that stirred some media interest; television channels covered the public protests in their afternoon and early evening bulletins. The print media briefly covered the event because of Giri and BJP state unit president Manoj Tiwari.

But the Lutyens Brigade, the film stars and other activists, noted for their shrillness on almost every issue under the sun, are missing in action. No candle marches, not even a press release to formally acknowledge the crime. Those who were ashamed to be Hindu in one case were not aggrieved Hindus in the second case. As a crime, like terror, has no religion, there was no need for anyone else to assume the burden of any shame. It is the worst form of cynicism.

How long will one community be at the receiving end of everything? This is a subject for national introspection.

- Sandhya Jain is a writer of political and contemporary affairs. A post graduate in Political Science from the University of Delhi, she is a student of the myriad facets of Indian civilisation. Her published works include Adi Deo Arya Devata. A Panoramic View of Tribal-Hindu Cultural Interface, Rupa, 2004; and Evangelical Intrusions. Tripura: A Case Study, Rupa, 2009. She has contributed to other publications, including a chapter on Jain Dharma in “Why I am a Believer: Personal Reflections on Nine World Religions,” ed. Arvind Sharma, Penguin India, 2009.

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