As chilling details emerged about the horrific rape and murder of an eight year old girl belonging to the nomadic Bakarwal community of Jammu and Kashmir, there is anger, despair and a prevailing sense of helplessness. Similarly, the reluctance of the Uttar Pradesh police to arrest Kuldeep Senger, a BJP member of legislative assembly from Unnao, for the rape of a 17-year-old and the subsequent death of her father in custody, is generating similar responses; Sengar was eventually detained on April 13 by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The despair is as much over the crimes as from the realisation that obstruction of justice is happening brazenly, in full view of the nation with a frightening, new impunity that has religion, politics and power written all over it.
The Crime Branch of the Jammu Police struggled throughout the day on April 9, to file an 18-page chargesheet because lawyers of the Kathua district Bar Association protested and shouted slogans in order to prevent them from doing so. It was only at 9.30pm that the chargesheet was filed, and when its contents - the horrific manner in which the little girl was violated and murdered in a temple by a bunch of radical Hindus - became public, a wave of revulsion spread through the country. According to the chargesheet, the girl was gangraped three times inside a prayer hall following the performance of a ritual. She was sedated and one of the accused came all the way from Meerut “to satisfy his lust”, the chargesheet states. Another accused, one of the two policemen accused in the case, reportedly raped the girl minutes before she was killed because he wanted to rape her “one last time”. The girl was strangled and then hit on the head with a rock to ensure that she was dead. Her body was found a week later in the nearby forests. According to the chargesheet, the motive of the abduction and gangrape was to “dislodge” the Bakarwal Muslim nomads from Rasana, the village to which the victim belonged. The mastermind, retired revenue official Sanji Ram, and seven others have now been arrested.
Ministers flash communal card
Two local policemen, who were bribed, had full knowledge of the whereabouts of the girl and helped the accused in covering up the crime. One of the policemen is a Special Police Officer, Deepak Khajuria. Members of the newly formed, right-wing Hindu Ekta Manch marched in support of Khajuria in February, and were supported by state ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, both of the BJP, and members of the Mehbooba Mufti cabinet.
The Manch, formed to resist the arrest of ‘Hindus’ of Jammu region for a crime against a Muslim child, is not just comprised of people associated with the Sangh Parivar. Its members cut across party lines and include the election agent of senior Congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Youth Congress leader, a BJP state secretary and top leaders of the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party. All of this points to the ever-widening cleavage between Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the Muslim majority areas in Kashmir. Rejecting the Crime Branch’s investigation into the matter, the Manch, is demanding a CBI probe to ensure a ‘fair enquiry.’ This, because, as its members have pointed out, the Crime Branch comes under the Home Department headed by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. The insinuation being that the People’s Democratic Party and the crime branch have a ‘Kashmir-centric agenda’.
Yet, RK Jalla, the Senior Superintendent of Police of the Crime branch, who defied immense pressure and conducted a thorough investigation that resulted in the blood-curdling chargesheet, is a Pandit known for his integrity and competence. His team’s investigation is the only redeeming piece in this unimaginably horrific episode that has exposed the depth of communal hatred fermenting in society today. Meanwhile, the girl’s family has migrated with their ponies and goats to higher mountain areas for the summer.
Power politics at work in Unnao
The same day as the lawyers obstructed the Jammu Crime Branch from filing its chargesheet in a court in Kathua, the father of the teenager raped by BJP MLA Kuldeep Senger in Unnao died in police custody. A day earlier, the girl had tried to self immolate in front of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence in protest against inaction on her complaint of rape against the BJP MLA Senger and his brother Atul Singh. Her complaint states that some of the legislator’s aides also raped her. Once the FIR was registered thanks to the court’s intervention, the MLA and his men started to threaten the family. Instead of arresting the powerful, the girl’s father was picked up by the police and later died in custody. A video has since surfaced showing him in hospital in which he says that Atul Singh thrashed him. “He kept on beating me. Nobody tried to save me," he is heard as saying. "Police waale (police men - perhaps the security personnel of the lawmaker) were standing there. They did nothing," says the man in the video, which was broadcast by NDTV.
The Unnao shocker is yet another indication of how the law and its enforcers i.e. the police are manipulated by the powerful in Uttar Pradesh. Though the names of Atul and his brother Kuldeep are mentioned in the girl’s complaint, the names don’t appear in the police FIR. Then, after the High court’s monitoring of the case, the police resisted arresting the MLA and instead arrested his brother Atul Singh. It was only on Friday (April 13) that the legislator was finally detained after the case was handed over to the CBI. But not before the Allahabad High Court questioned the UP police over its delay in detaining Senger.
The manner in which the UP police have been maligning the girl’s family, branding them as ‘history sheeters’ too raises questions. Even if they are history sheeters, does it mean that the girl’s complaint of rape can be brushed aside? Should the police not have investigated the complaint? The overwhelming sentiment that the episode leaves in its wake is that in lawless Uttar Pradesh, law enforcers get into action only at the behest of political heft. The fast accumulating blots on chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s rule are a darkening cloud now.