Kathua rape case puts Jammu on edge, strains PDP-BJP ties as questions raised over chargesheet
The gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from the nomadic Muslim community of Bakarwals in Jammu’s Kathua district has polarised the region on communal lines and once again exposed fault lines in the ruling coalition between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Two BJP ministers in the state government led by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti questioned the role of the police, which has filed a charge sheet against eight people in the case, naming a retired revenue department official as the mastermind of the plot. According to the charge sheet, the accused wanted Bakarwals to move out of his village, Rasana in Kathua.
On Wednesday, the Jammu high court bar association organised a Jammu bandh (shutdown) to protest against the “targeting of minority Dogras” in the case. The two BJP leaders — industries and commerce minister Chander Parkash Ganga and forest minister Lal Singh — hit out at the police for arresting “one or the other person at will” and demanded that the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). They also took part in the ensuing protest.
The girl disappeared close to her home in the forests next to Rasana village on January 10. Her body was found a week later, with the police saying she had been repeatedly raped.
“PDP has bent over backwards to allow ministers, legislators and proxy support groups of the BJP the space to obstruct justice and shield the culprits,” National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said, reacting to the news of the protests surrounding the charge sheet.
A group called the Hindu Ekta Manch recently held a rally with the Tricolour, opposing the settlement of Gujjar and Bakarwal tribes in Kathua. It also demanded the release of a police officer accused of involvement in the rape and murder of the girl. Reports said the BJP’s state secretary was part of the march. The BJP, however, distanced itself from the group.
Chief minister Mehbooba has reacted sharply to the rally: “Appalled by the marches and protests in defence of the recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag in these demonstrations, this is nothing short of desecration,” she tweeted.
The PDP has lost some of its sheen in the Kashmir valley after forming an alliance with the BJP in 2015. While much of Mehbooba’s tenure has been spent trying to douse violence, she has pushed the Centre for talks with Kashmiri separatists in the hope of assuaging the anger of locals. She met home minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday to discuss the security situation in the state.
Senior PDP minister Altaf Bukhari had said that his party would end the alliance with the BJP if it fails to deliver justice in the rape and murder case, soon after the National Conference trained its guns on the PDP for the ministers’ participation in the rally. Junaid Mattu, a spokesperson for the NC, attacked Mehbooba in a tweet.. “Knowing all the facts - and seeing how her Cabinet Colleagues openly tried to shield the rapists and murderers of (the girl) - If Mehbooba Mufti still sits with these people in the Government — it will be the lowest ebb of her political career.”