Kathua verdict

Kashmir Times. Dated: 6/12/2019 11:25:17 AM

Justice at last but the communal divides need attention too

It was a tough battle right from the start, from getting a fair probe to a fair trial, in the Kathua rape and murder case of an eight year old nomadic girl but justice has finally been delivered after year and half of the incident. On Monday, a special court in Pathankot on Monday convicted six of the seven accused in the Kathua rape and murder case. Those convicted include former revenue official Sanjhi Ram, Special Police Officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma, two investigating officers -- head constable Tilak Raj and sub-inspector Anand Dutta and a civilian, Parvesh Kumar. Sanjhi Ram's son, Vishal Jangotra was acquitted by the court for lack of evidence and the trial of the eighth accused, Shubham Sangra, is yet to begin as the J&K High Court has yet to decide on the issue of his age. If declared a minor, he will be separately tried by the Juvenile Justice Board in Kathua. As for now, the verdict is a welcome one and signifies a victory of justice. This could not have been possible without the build-up of local campaign, in the face of stiff resistance and communalization of Jammu region, belated nation-wide outrage, media activism, investigation carried out by adhering to minutest scientific details and rebuilding the case after the initial evidence had been tampered with as part of a deliberate conspiracy and most importantly an exemplary trial. The hearings of the trial were conducted in-camera on a day-to-day basis and were fast track. This significant judgement also revives hopes about the conduct of legal justice proceedings in other cases of sexual violence across the country. One of the major reasons why victims and survivors do not come forward with their complaints or why a culture of rape and sexual violence is so rampant in the society is because the legal justice system is slow and often partisan. While investigations are sloppy and half-hearted, the conviction rate is too low. In that sense Monday's verdict sets an important, relevant and much needed precedent which needs to be followed in respect of cases related to other offences. The issue at stake in this particular case, however, is not only justice, it is also the very nature and purpose behind the crime and social fabric of Jammu and Kashmir that was destroyed by its ugly politicization.
The horrifying incident was followed by the shocking response of the Hindu right-wing and its BJP patrons and its ultra-nationalistic manifestation, as jarring campaigns, which also posed threat to law and order, were used to counter the campaigns for justice and shield the culprits. The massive campaign to save the accused through whipping up Hindu majoritarian sentiments in the district and other parts of the Hindu belt of Jammu province had made it impossible for the court trial to be conducted smoothly and fairly. The right wing groups have taken to streets and whipped up frenzy against minorities and those campaigning for justice by perpetuating lies and resorting to propaganda, branding everybody as anti-national. Finally, the Supreme Court had stepped in and shifted the trial outside the state to neighbouring Punjab when the Crime Branch attempted to file the charge-sheet in the case before the judicial magistrate in Kathua, they were physically heckled and obstructed by the lawyers of the Kathua Bar Association. The very motive behind the kidnapping, rape and murder of the girl was inspired by rabidly communal design of using the girl's body to scare away the nomadic tribes from the area. The incident and its politicization have ever since sharpened the social and communal cleavages in Jammu and Kashmir. While justice has finally come for the victim, the concerns of how these gaps will be bridged remain. The voices in support of the convicts so far are muted but with the state unit of BJP, which is in power at the Centre, continuing to bat for them, the dangers are far from over. While regal remedy of appealing against the verdict is rightfully available to them, it is hoped that the society is spared is spared of the ordeal of street-wide politicization of the case or its use for electoral benefits in any way. Also, the safety issues of the nomadic communities and their anxieties are yet to be addressed.



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