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An 8-year-old child was raped and murdered. Do you care?

The brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl has polarised Jammu, with the local Bar Association calling for a bandh, claiming that the minority Dogras were being targeted. The state police, meanwhile, has lodged a case against lawyers who allegedly tried to prevent the filing of the charge-sheet against the accused on Tuesday. The case has even divided the state’s polity, with at least two BJP ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government questioning the role of the police.

A Child Goes Missing
On January 10, an 8-year-old girl went missing from a forest near her home in Rasana village where she had gone to graze her family’s horses. Her body was found seven days later in the same area, her face bruised black and blue, her half-shut eyes swollen.

Protests Erupt
On January 19, protests are held in several places across the Jammu region, accompanied by warnings of an agitation if the government did not arrest the culprits soon. In Jammu city, student groups from across communities hold multiple candlelight vigils and protests.

The child’s abduction and murder, according to police, was part of a plot to drive out members of the nomadic Bakerwal community from Rasana village. The plot, according to some reports, took shape around November last year amid regular face-offs between local Hindus and the Bakerwals over land trespass and encroachment in Rasana and other nearby Kathua villages

The accused
Media reports have pegged Sanjhi Ram, a former revenue official and local strongman as the suspected mastermind. His son, Vishal Kumar (a college student), police officer Deepak Khajuria, Ram’s 16-year-old nephew (who is the juvenile), and his friend Parvesh Kumar are the other accused. Sanji Ram’s juvenile nephew and Khajuria had earlier been beaten up by the Bakerwals for allegedly teasing a girl of the community, according to a report, and, therefore, had an axe to grind with them.

The Crime
The police charge-sheet, accessed and published in the form of a report by The Indian Express on April 11, states: “On January 10, the juvenile saw the girl asking about her horses. He told her that he had seen her horses and led her to the jungle.  He also called accused Parvesh Kumar (Mannu). Sensing some trouble, the victim tried to flee but the juvenile stopped her by catching hold of her neck and covered her mouth with one of his hands and pushed her and she fell to the ground. The victim fell unconscious and was raped by the juvenile (in the jungle). Thereafter, Mannu also attempted to rape her. They took her and kept her inside the Devasthan (a local temple) under the table over two plastic mats and then covered her.” The prayer hall where the girl had been hidden was allegedly kept locked by Ram, who happens to the temple’s custodian.

On January 11, the girl’s parents reached the Devasthan and asked Ram about the whereabouts of their missing daughter. He reportedly told them that she might have gone to some relative’s house.
On the same day, the juvenile called another accused, Vishal Jangotra, asking him to return from Meerut if he wanted to “satisfy his lust”. Jangotra reached Rasana at 6 am the next day. “At around 8.30 am, the juvenile again went to the Devasthan and administered 3 sedative tablets to the girl while she was unconscious with empty stomach,’’ the charge-sheet says.

By then a police party, which included Khajuria, had started searching for the girl. “Khajuria…came to the house of accused Sanji Ram with another police official namely Iftikar Wani… Khajuria advised the juvenile to ensure administering of sedatives to the victim in time,’’ the charge-sheet says.

Ram, of course, had already taken the accused police officials into confidence by them and struck a deal. The next day (January 12), Ram sent Rs 1.5 lakh to Head Constable Raj, who was part of the search party, through the juvenile’s mother. The next day, Jangotra, the juvenile and Ram went to the Devasthan where Ram is said to have performed some rituals. Later Jangotra “raped the nomad girl” and so did the juvenile.

A few days later they decided to get rid of her. “The accused Mannu, Vishal and juvenile took the victim from the Devasthan to a nearby culvert… accused Khajuria told the juvenile to wait as he wanted to rape the girl before she is killed,” the Indian Express quotes the charge-sheet as saying.

After raping her, Khajuri allegedly placed her neck on his left thigh and tried to choke her to death. “When he failed, the juvenile killed her by pressing his knees against her back while strangulating the girl by applying force on both the ends of her chunni. Thereafter, the accused, in order to make sure that the victim is dead, hit her twice on head with a stone,” the charge-sheet says.

Who has been arrested so far?
The police arrested the juvenile after preliminary investigations. Subsequently, two Special Police Officers (SPOs) — Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar — and later, another five persons, including former revenue official and the alleged conspirator, Sanji Ram (60), who surrendered before the special investigation team, were arrested.

Why the protests against police action?
In January, two BJP ministers in the state government, forest minister Lal Singh and industries minister Chander Prakash Ganga supported a local group, the Hindu Ekta Manch, which took out a rally with the national flag claiming the arrests to be a “targeted attack against Hindus”. The main accused is said to be the driver of the Hindu Ekta Manch, which is spearheading such protests.  The state BJP says they also want the culprits behind bars, but they aren’t satisfied with the probe by the crime branch.
On Monday (April 9) several lawyers of the Jammu Bar Association protested outside the district jail and tried to stop the crime branch from filing the charge-sheet. It took the Chief Judicial Magistrate almost six hours to accept the charge-sheet, that too after the intervention of the Jammu and Kashmir law minister.

(With Agency inputs)

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