Kathua rape case: From grazing to land disputes, how differences between Hindus and Bakarwals led to crime

Ishfaq Naseem
The persistent communal divide between Muslims and Hindus in Jammu has already thrown life out of gear in the city.

The Hindus and Muslims in Kathua would often fight over cow slaughter and the grazing of cattle in the forest areas before an eight-year-old Gujjar girl was raped and murdered in Rasana.

Interviews with local residents, father of the deceased girl and some police officials revealed that after the body of the girl was recovered the Hindus didn't allow the burial in a graveyard and protests by Muslim families lead to migration of some Hindus from Rasana.

The persistent communal divide between Muslims and Hindus in Jammu has already thrown life out of gear with authorities shutting down the mobile internet services on Tuesday to prevent disturbance as the disgraced BJP MLA and former minister, Lal Singh Chaudhary, took out a rally in support of CBI probe in the case.

Now the broken and narrow road that leads to Rasana through the bushes is being guarded by policemen and the entry of outsiders to the village is being monitored.

In the heinous crime which has triggered a furious reaction from Hindus and Muslims from Kashmir and other parts of India, the Gujjar girl was held captive in a temple before she was raped and murdered. The chargesheet which has been filed by the Crime Branch (CB) of Jammu and Kashmir Police in the case reveals that "During the investigation, it transpired that a particular community had a general impression that the Bakarwals indulge in cow slaughter and drug trafficking and that their children were turning into drug addicts. This rivalry between the two communities in the area has already resulted in registration of various FIRs and counter FIRs at different adjoining police stations in the area between the two communities. Thus during investigation it has become abundantly clear that the accused had a reason to act against the Bakarwal community and hence the conspiracy ultimately resulting into the gruesome rape and brutal murder of an innocent budding flower, a child of only 8 years of age, who being a small kid became a soft target."

The CB has further revealed that the "hair strands recovered from the temple" matched with the DNA profile of victim, "which confirmed that the victim was kept in captivity at Devisthan which is exclusively manned by accused Sanji Ram."

The CB has alleged that the accused Sanji Ram had a plan to evict the Gujjars from the area due to which he got the girl raped and murdered and was assisted by some police officials to cover up the crime. The CB charge sheet has further revealed that Sanji would pitch the local Hindus against the Gujjars and ask them not to provide the land for grazing to them. He used to make Gujjars pay fines for grazing the land in the forest.

"He had also seized goats of one Rashid D/o Chandia Bakerwal in the month of December, 2017 for watering his cattle at a pond near his house and Rs 1,000/- was taken from him as fine for releasing the goats. Apart from this, he had also charged Rs 1,000/- as fine from Mohd. Yousaf Bakarwal for grazing his cattle in the forest pasture situated near his house (sic)," read the Crime Branch charge sheet.

Adoptive father of the deceased girl said that after her body was recovered on 17 January the local Hindus protested and didn't allow them to bury the girl. He said that the land for the graveyard was purchased by the Muslim Gujjars from some Hindus, who however threatened that they will take it back. He said that they had to bury the body in another village, where the Gujjars live, late in the evening.

Police officials who have been deployed at Rasana, however, said that after the rape and murder of Gujjar girl, some eight to nine Hindu families moved to a nearby village due to protests by local Gujjars but were later brought back to the area by the authorities.

Earlier, girl's father said, the local Hindu population would object to the grazing of their cattle in the forest area and also refuse to sell the fodder to the Muslims. He said that his family and the other Gujjars were forced to migrate early after the protests by Hindus.

On Tuesday, hundreds took part in the rally in favour of a CBI probe in the case, which was taken out from Jammu city to Kathua by Lal Singh and the protesters took exception to the fact that the case was investigated by a police officer from Kashmir.

Also See: Kathua rape case: Blatant support for barbaric act shows how bigotry, communal haze have numbed people

Kathua rape and murder case: Five-member Bar Council of India team arrives in Jammu, meets lawyers who held protests

Kathua rape and murder case: How Jammu and Kashmir Police built their case against 8 accused ahead of trial

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