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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Division and denial in Kathua village that witnessed ghastly crime

Residents say they have lived in fear since the brutality came to light. “A sense of fear is still there in the minds of people of the village. This ghastly crime has brought a bad name to our village,” said Raman Kumar, a 27-year-old resident.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2019 09:12 IST
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Hindustan Times, Rasana (Kathua)
People protest against the charge-sheet, naming a priest and seven others in the rape-murder of an eight-year-old in Jammu in April 2018.
People protest against the charge-sheet, naming a priest and seven others in the rape-murder of an eight-year-old in Jammu in April 2018. (PTI File Photo)
         

Rasana in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district was an obscure village until January 2018 when it hit the headlines after an eight-year-old nomadic girl was found to have been drugged, held captive in a temple and raped for days before she was killed with a stone there.

Residents say they have lived in fear since the brutality came to light. “A sense of fear is still there in the minds of people of the village. This ghastly crime has brought a bad name to our village,” said Raman Kumar, a 27-year-old resident.

Kumar was among a handful of residents present in the village on Monday when a court in Punjab’s Pathankot sentenced three Rasana residents to life in prison for raping and murdering the girl. The village has 15 odd houses and its around 70 residents are mostly Brahmins.

Read on:Kathua rape-murder case: Biggest challenge was to safeguard evidence, says J&K IG Ahfadul Mujtaba

Most men were either out for work on Monday or were in Pathankot for the much-awaited verdict. Two policemen were guarding the village temple, where the girl was drugged, gang-raped and then bludgeoned to death.

The temple, or Devsthan, was locked while two houses of nomadic Bakerwals, including that of the girl’s family, remained abandoned two kilometres from Rasana in Kootah area.

The Supreme Court was forced to shift the trial in the case to Punjab in May 2018 after the girl’s family and lawyer faced death threats. A group of lawyers prevented Jammu and Kashmir crime branch officers from submitting a charge sheet in the case in a Kathua court in April 2018. A shutdown was earlier observed in Kathua in March 2018 and the people took to the streets against the arrests made in the case.

Two Bharatiya Janata Party ministers, Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, in the then People’s Democratic Party-led alliance government in Jammu and Kashmir, too, joined the protests under the banner of the Hindu Ekta Manch.

Rasana residents remained sceptical on Monday. Kumar insisted there was a deep-rooted conspiracy involved. He added there was never any dispute or bad blood between the nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwals and the village’s Hindus. “No doubt, the girl was brutally killed and the entire village wanted the guilty to be given an exemplary punishment.” Kumar accused the Jammu and Kashmir police’s crime branch of botching up the probe under the influence of then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Mufti lost power in June 2018 after the BJP pulled out of the alliance government she led in Jammu and Kashmir.

Another resident, Ashutosh Sharma, said there was not “an iota of truth” in the crime branch charge sheet in the case. “Had Sanji Ram been the main conspirator, why would he dump the girl’s body near the temple? While the entire village demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI] probe, why Mehbooba Mufti did not agree to it? Her adamancy exposed her malafide intentions of creating a wedge between Hindus and Muslims for her vote bank politics.”

Ram, 65, was among the three people convicted for the rape and murder while his son, Vishal Jangotra, was the lone accused to be acquitted. Three Jammu and Kashmir policemen were held guilty of tampering with evidence.

Ram’s daughter, Monika, questioned if her brother was not involved in the crime, then why would her father have hatched such a conspiracy. “Vishal’s acquittal has demolished the crime branch’s entire charge-sheet bit by bit. The entire incident needs a CBI probe for justice to the little girl and our family.”

A man in his 70s, who refused to give his name, regretted their deity, temple, and village was maligned for “dirty politics”. “None would escape his [deity] wrath. The soul of the little girl would not rest in peace until justice is delivered to her.”

First Published: Jun 11, 2019 07:04 IST

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