If one sad truth emerges from the sensational saga of the death of an eight year old girl child in a remote village of Jammu & Kashmir, it is that Justice for Jammu’s Daughter has been overtaken by the agenda to politicise, communalise, and even internationalise the discourse around the murder and alleged rape.
After various lacunas were detected in the investigation, demands for a free and fair inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation – upheld by the Bar Council of India after its own field study – are still being muzzled. Some were quick to monetize the tragedy; there are no public accounts of the funds collected and sources thereof, but after a social media outcry it was said that the funds had been disbursed and the account closed.
In recent days, a television channel, Zee News, has exposed footage showing Vishal Jangotra, one of the accused in the murder-cum-alleged-rape, as withdrawing money from an ATM booth in Muzaffarnagar, UP, around 3 p.m. on January 15. According to the J&K Crime Branch charge sheet, Vishal should have been in Rassana village, district Kathua, Jammu province, on that day.
Clearly, there is much merit in the conviction of Rassana residents that the investigation has been below par. Given the gravity of both the crime and the manner in which it is being misused to trap pre-chosen targets rather than arrive at the truth, a fact-finding team from the Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA, a forum for professional women from civil society) visited the village.
Besides the aggrieved villagers and daughter of main accused Sanjhi Ram Patwari, they met with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu, Choudhary Zulfikar Ali, Minister for the Department of FCS&CA and Tribal Affairs Department, members of the Jammu Bar association, and others.
Members of the group comprised Meera Khadakkar, Retired District Judge, Nagpur; Monika Arora, Advocate, Supreme Court of India; Sarjana Sharma, Senior Journalist; Sonali Chitalkar, Assistant Professor, Miranda House, Delhi University; and Monicca Agarwaal, Entrepreneur and Social Activist. They were driven by the fact that while the incident happened between January 10 and 17, 2018, it was given communal colour once it came into the limelight in March-April 2018. Reporting standards, even the law, were given short shrift in an unseemly rush to set a pre-determined narrative in stone.
Most notable is the fact that in Jammu & Kashmir all challans are filed in Urdu, which is the official language of the state; yet in this case the challan was typed in English and released to the media along with the picture and name of the child victim before being provided to the accused.
Suspicions arise regarding the manner in which three investigating teams were changed rapidly, within a span of just ten days, from January 12, 2018 when the Police first registered a missing person report, to January 23. From January 12-18, the investigation was done by the SHO, Hiranagar. Then, from January 19-20, the probe shifted to the ASP Samba, Adil Hamid Raza. From January 23 onwards, the case has been with the Crime Branch Jammu.
The Crime Branch team is headed by Naveed Peerzada, SSP Crime Branch Kashmir. The Dy. SP, Crime Branch Jammu, Nisar Hussain, faces allegations of destruction of evidence in another case. Another Dy. SP Crime Branch Jammu, Shwetambari Sharma, is the Investigating Officer (IO); Urfan Wani, SI Crime Branch Jammu, is a Kashmiri officer who has been charge sheeted for the custodial death of a Hindu boy and rape of his minor sister; and Tariq Ahmed, ASI, Crime Branch Kashmir (also a Kashmiri). Thus, the Crime Branch team is packed with officers from Kashmir, not Jammu. Both accused officers have been acquitted, but this cuts little ice in the sensitive Jammu region.
The charge sheet raises several relevant questions. It mentions gang-rape by at least three persons over many days, which is not corroborated by the injuries described in the post-mortem report. The GIA team made a comparison with the post mortem report of a separate case of an eight-year-old girl who had been raped and murdered; the injuries reported on her private parts were severe with intense bleeding. No such injuries have been reported on the victim in the Kathua incident, though the charge sheet says it is a gang rape. The post
mortem report mentions abrasions but no injuries.
It is pertinent that the body of such a young child would tear if subjected to gang-rape; no such violent injuries are reported. Most astonishingly, no residual blood stains have been found at the Devsthan, if that was indeed the site of the crime. Nor did the Police or Crime Branch seal the structure, which is an alleged crime scene.
The “Devi Sthan” mentioned in the charge sheet is actually a “Devsthan” which houses the Kul devatas (clan deities) of the villages in and around Rasana. It is a sparsely furnished room of roughly 20×35 feet, which was visited by a large number of people on January 13,14 and 15, for Lohri, Makar Sankranti, and a Yagya and Bhandara (Jan. 15, 2018).
The question legitimately arises if a girl with a height of 4 feet can be hidden under a table 3½ feet wide. Can a girl be hidden in a room with three doors and three windows with only grills and no panes; can such a site be called a secluded place where a girl could be sedated and hidden?
The charge sheet mentions the presence of Vishal Jangotra in Rassana on the days of the crime. But various reports suggest that he was in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, giving exams on the days of the crime. This is still under investigation but is a part of the charge sheet. Vishal Jangotra gave alibis that during the alleged period of crime he was giving exams in Meerut. Why was this aspect not investigated by the investigating team? Since then, Zee News has aired footage of his presence in UP.
The alleged motive – to scare the Bakkarwals to leave the place – is not established by the charge sheet. It remains unclear why the accused kidnapped the child. Yet it is evident that
the child would have recognized her kidnappers. Even the intention to kidnap and murder the child is not established in the charge sheet.
The body was found by Jagdish Rai at a site near the house of Sanjhi Ram, the principal accused. This raises the question why an alleged murderer would dump the body of his victim barely 100 meters away from his own house. The village has a number of sites that could have been used to dump the body, including a small nallah that should have been the logical site. The charge sheet does not state who clicked the photograph of the deceased from a high resolution camera.
The charge sheet says that the victim was starved and sedated, but the post mortem report says the intestines contained digested food material. So if the child had digested food material in her intestines, where did she excrete and pass urine? No such evidences have been found in the Devsthan. Above all, how, after seven days of abduction and alleged gang rape, was the dead body found with shoes on the feet and hairband on the head?
The post-mortem was conducted by the Government District Hospital Kathua, and the report dated Jan. 17, 2018, Serial number 27, states that: the stomach-empty, intestines-filled with digested material. Another copy of the same report has many changes and also states: Stomach-empty; Intestines-NAD (no abnormal development). This second copy bears the date March 19, 2018, that is, two months later. Most astonishingly, both post-mortem reports, with their glaring inconsistencies, have been attached to the charge sheet. Which one is real?
The Crime Branch team found a single strand of hair matching that of the victim many days after the incident. Strangely, no hair was found on the duree under which the girl was allegedly concealed.
Several villagers had to leave Rassana, alleging harassment by the Crime Branch. Three friends of Vishal Jangotra – Neeraj Sharma, Sachin Sharma and Sahil Sharma – have given statements under Section 164 Cr.P.C. that they were tortured to confess against Vishal Jangotra. The parents of accused Parvesh, alias Mannu, repeatedly claimed their son was given electric shocks by being forced to urinate on a heater.
Moreover, attempts were made to deny a free and fair trial to the accused. When the charge sheet was filed on April 9, 2018 in the court of chief judicial magistrate, Kathua, the lawyers representing the accused were given incomplete and inconsistent copies of the charge sheet only on April 18, in violation of the Law and principles of natural justice. This raises doubts regarding the fairness of the system.
There are many uninvestigated angles. Villagers have reported that in the wee hours of January 16, 2018 the village transformer faulted with a loud bang and the village was plunged in darkness. One person, Bishen Singh, heard a bullet bike enter the village with two men huddled in blankets; they left after 30 minutes. Despite repeatedly recording this statement with the Crime Branch, it has not been investigated.
Other unanswered questions include: why did the Police wash the clothes of the deceased and dry them in the premises of the Police station; what was the effect of high doses of sedatives over a period of six days on the child victim, as alleged by the Police; and why are evidences of fingerprints and foot prints not attached in the charge sheet?
The fact-finding team found that both the Gujjar-Bakkarwals and the villagers of Rassana are fierce nationalists; most villagers are ex-servicemen or serving in the forces. The orchestrated media chorus branding them as pro-rapists has enraged them. They point out that the Village Defence Committee searched for the child when she was reported missing, and when her body was found on January 17, they joined the family in grief.
But by the time of the chautha on January 20, hundreds of outsiders, including people from Kashmir, arrived and raised pro-Pakistan slogans and hijacked their genuine movement for justice for the deceased. They raised provocative slogans, rampaged through Rasana, banging doors and terrorising the villagers. Around 2000 protested blocked the national highway and demanded the arrest of Sanjhi Patwari and Deepak Khajuria, even before investigations had begun. This is certainly suspicious. The Hindu Ekta Manch was formed in Kathua in response to these startling events. Both Sanjhi Patwari and Deepak Khajuria were thereafter arrested between January 23 and 25, 2018. For justice to be done and seen to be done, the State Government must hand over the case to the CBI.
Pgurus, 5 May 2018