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Inside the village there is a temple that is locked (where she was kept and raped), a forest that has cattle grazing during the day but in the dark can invite wild animals (where her body was thrown), and a house that is abandoned (where she was followed from). Somewhere in this triangle is the dead child’s story. In Kathua, though, it is all but drowning in the din of politics.
“Nobody is talking about the crime, the brutality,” said Masood Chaudhary, a retired DIG in the Jammu & Kashmir police. “It is getting so politicized, so polarized.”
The village itself looks empty. The Hindu residents are either in hiding or sitting in dharna elsewhere. The Bakarwals, a nomadic Muslim tribe to which the kid belonged, have run away for now.
The girl’s family left Rasana quietly a few days ago too. The house, with two faded pink pillars in the front, its walls a mellow green, is barren. There is a lock on a small brown door with a tabiz hanging, perhaps for luck, that has a kitchen on the right. There is a pressure cooker, a flask, two empty jars, a tea cup and a glass on the shelf. Nothing else. The tiny hall is bereft of anything. Outside, at the back, there are some old plastic shoes. A pair, the smallest, has water from the rain partially filling it up. It could have been the girl’s.
Back in Hiranagar where the family of the main accused, Sanji Ram, a retired revenue official, is fasting for “justice” along with members of the Hindu Ekta Manch, there is anger and reproach. “We want the case to be transferred to the CBI. We want the real culprits to be punished,” said Madhu Bala, Ram’s eldest daughter. In protest for a week now, Bala, the wife of an Army man posted in Srinagar, said her father and brother, Vishal, who was studying in a Muzaffarnagar college and is alleged to have been one of the rapists of the girl, are innocent.
Giving her company is Hindu Ekta Manch president Vijay Sharma, a lawyer whose outfit is leading the fight for an “impartial” probe. “The crime branch which is investigating the case and is doing what the Mehbooba Mufti government wants it to do is not the right cell to look into this crime. Didn’t CBI take over the Unnao rape case? Why not this?’
Sharma denied he was “playing dirty” and insisted that the Manch formed spontaneously on January 27 after the first agitation by his group on January 17. Asked why lawyers were stopping the case from going to court, he said, “We have been misunderstood. We are not against a community or for any individual. We are merely saying that innocents are being victimized.”
But Chaudhary sees a larger conspiracy. “The Bakarwals have started settling down and some don’t like that. So just scare them away. Moreover, Hiranagar is a reserved constituency now but won’t be so in the next elections. In J&K, a constituency is reserved on a rotational basis. So who gains when certain politicians give a particular colour to a tragedy like this?”