Jammu Bar fighting State communalism

The J&K High Court Bar Association Jammu (Jammu Bar Association), responding to notices issues by the Supreme Court of India (Suo Moto Writ Petition, Criminal, No. 1 of 2018), insists that Deepika Singh Rajawat, advocate, was neither threatened nor obstructed from appearing in the High Court on behalf of the victim in the Rassana alleged rape and murder case, by any office bearer or member of the Association. In its official response to the Supreme Court, on April 24, 2018, the Jammu Bar Association countered that it is fighting a graver menace, viz, another Kashmir-like situation to force exodus of one community.

The Supreme Court had issued notice after Deepika Singh Rajawat complained to the Chief Justice (Acting) of the J&K High Court on April 9, 2018 regarding an alleged threat by the president of the J&K High Court Bar Association, Jammu, Mr B.S. Slathia. Ms Rajawat alleged that the threat was made on April 4, 2018, though media reports claimed that the alleged threat was made on April 11, 2018 (P. 9, Times of India).

The Association has admitted to requesting members of the Bar to respect the resolution of the general house meeting which called for striking work, but they never obstructed any advocate from appearing in any case. The reply was filed by Prem N. Sadotra, general secretary of the Association, via advocate Bimal Roy Jad.

The Jammu Bar Association had previously iterated the same before a committee constituted by the Bar Council of India, headed by Justice Tarun Agarwal (former Chief Justice, High Court) during its visit to Jammu on April 20, 2018.

Taking the high moral ground on behalf of the beleaguered Jammu province, the Bar Association asserted that it is not just a body of lawyers, but “a body of responsible citizens whose duty it is to fight out the break-India and anti-national forces and ensure the unity and integrity of India”. Charging that, “the fact of the matter is that there is real grave threat to our own life and national security”, it said that the Jammu Bar Association took the plunge in the light of the recent attack on the Army Camp at Sunjwan, Jammu, on February 10, 2018.

The illegal settlement of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis at strategic locations in Jammu, including Army Camps, Railway Station, Airport, bridges, on Jammu’s high hills and along the national highway, and the State Government’s directions to Deputy Commissioners and IGP Jammu to promote demographic changes and bovine smuggling, subverting the rule of law, were and remain issues of state and national importance. The Bar Association took up these issues in recognition of its duties towards the nation.

The Bar Association reminded the Supreme Court that since the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmiri Valley in 1990, organised State-sponsored attempts are being made from time to time to create a Kashmir-like situation by ensuring demographic change in Jammu region.

At first, legislation like the J&K State Lands (vesting of ownership to occupants) Act, 2001, was enacted, where after nearly 20 lakh kanals of State and Forest land was found to be illegally occupied and their cases were processed for conferring ownership rights by virtue of having illegal possession of  Govt. and Forest land. Secondly, at a meeting presided over by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on February 14, 2018, three illegal decisions were made whereby no member belonging to the tribal population who encroaches State land can be evicted under law. Further, the provisions of Section 188 of Ranbir Penal Code, with regard to Bovine smuggling and illegal settlements of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi infiltrators, have been given short shrift by the administration in Srinagar.

Reiterating its commitment to peaceful coexistence, communal harmony and rule of law, the Jammu Bar nevertheless pointed out that the members of the Association “feel grave threat to their security, life and property in the given circumstances where the State has miserably failed to perform its constitutional duty”.

The Bar Association insisted that the acts of omission and commission by the State Government have had the effect of “encouraging certain forces that are hell-bent to change the Jammu’s demography so that the people living in Jammu region are made to feel insecure and toe line of anti-national forces which are duly encouraged and patronized by foreign powers, especially Pakistan”. The Association averred that it has been striving hard to defeat all the break India and anti-national forces operating in the State, while taking recourse to all Constitutional, peaceful and legal measures, including resorting to peaceful agitation.

Coming to the facts of the case, the Bar Association stated that the Rassana victim family had approached the High Court of J&K (OWP No. 259/2018, titled Mohd. Akhter V/s State and Other) through Deepika Singh Rajawat, and expressed unhappiness with the investigation conducted by the police agency and the Crime Branch. The people of Hiranagar/Kathua were also not satisfied with the Crime Branch Investigation.

This petition was listed for the first time on February 9, 2018 and the Court issued notice to the respondents. The interim orders passed in the petition clearly establish that Deepika Singh Rajawat appeared in OWP No. 259/2018. The High Court was monitoring the investigation on each and every date fixed in the case, viz., February 9, 19, 21, March 9, 14, April 9 and 11, when the petition was disposed of as the charge-sheet was filed in the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kathua.

The Jammu Bar Association emphasised that no office bearer or member of the Association ever stopped or threatened or obstructed Rajawat from appearing in the Rassana case. Moreover, during the course of the lawyers’ agitation, only two dates, April 9 and 11, were fixed for hearing in this case. But the High Court passed orders on all seven days previously mentioned.

The Association explained that on March 9, its office bearers had addressed a press conference, after which a meeting of Advisory, Executive, & Special Invitees Committees were held on March 16, wherein it was decided to discuss four issues at a general house meeting on April 3, 2018.

These include illegal directions issued after a meeting of Tribal Affairs Department held on February 14, 2018; deportation of illegally settled immigrants in and around Jammu for being a security threat; resolving of agitation by people of Nowshera, Sunderbani & Kalakote (for a separate district); and handing over Rasana murder case, Kathua, to the CBI for fair and impartial investigation.

The General House at its meeting on April 3 approved the demands, including handing over the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation so as to ensure that the victim gets the justice. At no stage was there any demand to support the alleged rapists.

On April 11, 2018 a complete Jammu Bandh was observed and a protest rally was taken out by the J&K High Court Bar Association Jammu; it was fulsomely supported by all civil society bodies and citizens, and passed off peacefully.

As stated, the J&K Crime Branch filed its charge sheet at Kathua. It has been a tradition that any agitation launched by the Jammu Bar Association would be supported by all District and Muffasils Bar Associations. The District Bar Association Kathua also supported the demand to transfer investigation of Rassana Murder case to the CBI. More pertinently, the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate Kathua is nearly 100 kms from Jammu. As such, any alleged obstruction in filing the same would have to be answered by the members of District Bar Association Kathua.

Even before April 11, 2018, the action committee in Nowshehra had suspended its agitation after 50 days of complete Hartal and Bandh. Also, as the charge-sheet was filed in the Rassana murder and future remedy lay with the legal process, the Jammu Bar Association decided to confine the Jammu Bandh call to only two demands – Deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis nationals from Jammu to any other place in India, and withdrawal of the three directions 1, 2 and 18 of the Minutes of Meeting dated February 14, 2018.

The Association expressed shock at the motivated and malicious campaign by some television channels that spread false impressions about the Bandh call and projected the legal fraternity and people as pro-rapists. This propaganda compelled the Supreme Court of India to take cognizance of the Rassana case and issue notices to the office bearers of the District Court Bar Association Kathua and J&K High Court Bar Association Jammu, and also to the Bar Council of India and J&K Bar Council, to explain the reasons for the alleged obstruction in the filing of the charge sheet and the lawyers representing the victim.

On receipt of letters from the High Court J&K and the Bar Council of India, an extraordinary meeting of the General House of J&K High Court Bar Association Jammu, on April 16, 2018, decided to resume work while continuing its agitation by peaceful and constitutional methods for deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis illegally settled in and around Jammu, and for rescinding the directions issued by the Forest Department after the meeting chaired by the Chief Minister on February 14, 2018.

It may be mentioned that over the past few weeks, well known intellectuals and personalities of Jammu have been engaged in a major campaign to rouse every district in the province about the demographic threat hanging like the Sword of Damocles over their heads.

Pgurus, 25 April 2018


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