The Girl from Kathua: A Sacrificial Victim of Ghazwa-e-Hind. Madhu Purnima Kishwar. Garuda Prakashan. 2023. Rs 799. Pages 641.
Crime and punishment in India’s highly-politicised legal system, from the police upwards to lawyers and the judiciary, is at best a dicey affair.
Poor investigations are often followed by “confessions” extracted from those held in captivity.
The media jumps in early, often aided by police and political leaks, to amplify whatever it thinks is the popular mood. Politicians then play to the gallery.
Even by the low and wayward standards of India’s law enforcement system, the rape-cum-murder of a girl from Kathua district in Jammu stands out as a case of possible miscarriage of justice.
Once the girl was reported missing, and then later discovered dead in January 2018, politics and a media circus took over.
Since the accused were Dogra Hindus in a Muslim-majority state, the case served as a useful device to target the Hindu-majority population of Jammu region.
All the Hindus wanted was a fair investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation, but they were denied this and labelled as rape-supporters.
At a time when the ruling PDP-BJP coalition held power, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti used the incident to push the BJP on the defensive and evict a key minister who had widespread public support in a region of Jammu.
Five years later, we now have a book written by Madhu Purnima Kishwar, who spent months investigating the tragedy and got to speak to several of those Dogra families who were targeted by the Mufti government.
A gritty investigator of unpopular causes, Kishwar has now produced an entirely-believable book titled The Girl From Kathua: A Sacrificial Victim of Ghazwa-e-Hind.
At the end of it you are left with the sinking feeling that the public outrage was less about justice for the rape victim, but an attempt to push the numerically-insignificant Dogras to the wall in a well-orchestrated campaign led by a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) activist who weaponised the Kathua girl’s rape-cum-murder.
The book is extremely well-researched and provides ample reason for the Supreme Court to reopen the convictions in this case, which centres around one Sanji Ram, a respected Dogra Hindu of Rasana (Kathua District), and convicted by a Pathankot court as the “mastermind” in the crime.
The entire case was established and eight people convicted based on the confessions (allegedly extracted under torture) by two teenagers, including a minor, Shubham Sangra and Parvesh Kumar, the latter being the minor.
A special police officer (SPO), Deepak Khajuria, part of the first team to investigate the crime, and another SPO with only a fleeting acquaintance with the case, Surinder Kumar, and Sub-Inspector Anand Dutta, who was station-in-charge for just one day, were among those convicted.
The only two persons who could not be convicted were Vishal Jangotra, younger son of Sanji Ram, and Lovely Tosh, Ram’s older son, because there was video evidence that the former was in Muzaffarnagar at the time of the crime, and the latter placed far away on an Indian Navy ship.
Kishwar documents, in excruciating detail, the tensions between the Dogras and the Bakarwals, the latter being conduits for some of the drugs being smuggled across the Pakistan border into this region of Jammu.
She also alleges that Dogra lands were being deliberately encroached upon by Gujjars, Bakarwals and Bangladeshi Muslims in order to change the demography of Jammu, which is currently Hindu majority.
The oppression of the minority Dogras by Kashmiri Islamist forces is one of the reasons why Kishwar believes that the political and media outcry over the Kathua girl’s murder was effectively a political operation to marginalise the Hindus of Jammu.
Hence the designation of the girl from Kathua as a “sacrificial victim of Ghazwa-e-Hind”.
Written in three main parts, the first part deals with “The Kathua Conspiracy and the Bizarre Charge-Sheet”.
The second deals with the “Lead Players who Peddled the Fake Narrative”, and the third about the “Gross Misjudgement” of the court which handed the guilty verdict to Sanji Ram and seven others.
Kishwar questions, with good reason, the credibility of the evidence presented against the accused in this case.
There is a fourth part, which deals with “The Wheel of Karma”.
After Mehbooba Mufti helped orchestrate the Kathua case, she lost power after the BJP withdrew support to the PDP, and the state went into Governor’s rule.
It was finally reduced to a Union Territory after the abolition of article 370 in August 2019.
An update on the Kathua case shows that in October 2019, an FIR was filed against six police officers who were instrumental in falsely accusing Vishal Jangotra of being involved in the rape-murder, but this happened only after Jangotra was acquitted of all charges by the Pathankot trial judge.
Two others who were sentenced wrongly got bail and their sentences suspended.
Kishwar has a note of warning to Hindus who prefer to remain Dhimmis when faced with Islamist intimidation.
In the entire episode, the Indian state acted not to uphold the law fearlessly, but to pander to Kashmir’s Muslim political class’s interests in the state. That is something the Narendra Modi government should take note of.
One thing is clear: Jammu should never remain under Kashmir’s suzerainty. It must be freed to be master of its own destiny.
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