Hindu nationalists protesting to release rape and murder accused of 8-year-old is a new low
The demonstration, held in Jammu’s Kathua, was led by the Hindu Ekta Manch, which is headed by state BJP secretary Vijay Sharma.
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Hindus in India, some believe, have long been victims of appeasement politics, of state patronage to minorities at the cost of the majority community. However, the present government, voted to power with a landslide mandate, is on the path to correct this wrong, giving the long-suppressed Hindus a voice. This voice was recently raised, with demonstrators, political leaders and even the tricolour to amplify it, in support of a man – a policeman — arrested for allegedly torturing, raping, and killing an eight-year-old girl.
Appalled by the marches & protests in defense of the recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag in these demonstrations, this is nothing short of desecration. The accused has been arrested & the law will follow its course.— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) February 16, 2018
The demonstration, held in Jammu’s Kathua, was led by the Hindu Ekta Manch, which is headed by state BJP secretary Vijay Sharma. The protesters demanded that special police officer Deepak Khajuria be released, dubbing his arrest a “jihad”.
Local media outlets reported that the protesters included other BJP leaders such as Rashpal Sharma, appointed as the vice chairman of Jammu and Kashmir State Advisory Board for Welfare and Development of the Other Backward Classes in August 2016, and Hira Nagar MLA Kuldeep Varma. Some Congress leaders were reportedly also part of the protests. According to Kashmir Life, "the district president of Kathua Congress Committee and ex-MLC Subash Gupta is also part of the Hindu Ekta Manch. The other Congress leaders prominent in the protests are former MLA Girdhari Lal and former MLC Subash Chander."
The state’s ruling machinery – BJP is a coalition partner in the J&K government – has openly thrown its formidable weight behind a man who allegedly tortured an eight-year-child to death, reportedly to create fear in the minds of Muslims in the area. Reports have stated that the girl’s body was found over a week after she went missing, raped, administered electric shocks, her bones broken. She had been drugged presumably to prevent her from crying out for help.
The man may not be guilty, that is for the country’s courts to pronounce. But no group or manch has the right to demand his release after the police have arrested him under due process of law, especially not those who are part of the government and are entrusted with upholding law and order.
For proud Hindus and nationalists across India – the time to outrage is now. Under the banner of a Hindu “manch” and carrying the tricolour, people are demanding the release of a man accused of torturing and killing a child. Surely, there can be no greater insult to the flag or to the religion?
The eight-year-old victim belonged to the nomadic Bakerwal tribe, though some reports claim she was a Gujjar, another tribe. In January, she went missing while tending to her horses. Her brutalised body was found a week later. It took protests from locals in Kathua and the Opposition in the Assembly to kick-start probe into the case, residents have alleged the girl would have been found sooner had the police reacted faster to the complaint of her going missing.
The National Flag belongs to India, not to be used for Hindutva causes. Photo: Twitter
Initially, a 15-year-old was arrested for her abduction and killing. But the state later ordered a magisterial probe and handed over the case to the Crime Branch, which zeroed in on Khajuria and another special police officer Surinder Kumar. Khajuria had been part of the team that had earlier “searched for” the child.
Bakerwals are Muslims who spend the winter in Jammu and migrate to Kashmir for the summer. For the past years, tensions have been worsening between the tribes and local Hindus, who claim they are buying land and settling here, which might “change the demography of the region”. In April last year, some Bakerwals, while making the journey to Kashmir that they have for centuries, were beaten up by cow vigilantes for “smuggling cattle”.
Khajuria has purportedly told the police he raped and killed the little girl to “terrorise the Muslims”. The Bakerwals have claimed that they are being barred from wells and ponds in the Hindu-dominated villages. In fact, the child’s family was not even allowed to bury her in their village.
After the policemen were arrested, the Hindu Ekta Manch called on people to boycott the Bakerwals and Gujjars, demanding that the purchase of milk products and livestock from them be stopped.
This is systematic and persistent persecution of a community, legitimised by the involvement of the ruling party’s members.
Not the first time
This is not the first time the Right wing extremists have aggressively defended one of their kind. The Udaipur District and Sessions court was stormed by supporters of Shambhu Lal Regar, who killed a man on live camera, and more than 30 policemen were injured in the clashes. Rs 3 lakh was donated by people across the country for his wife.
When a man accused of lynching Mohammad Akhlaq over allegations of killing and eating a cow in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri died, his body was wrapped in the national flag and a Union minister attended his funeral.
Not one leading leader from the BJP condemned any of these incidents.
The BJP needs to remember that law and order are above ideology. A crime cannot be framed in the us-versus-them narrative – a Hindu does not attack a Muslim or vice versa, a citizen of this country attacks the other. Under the Indian Constitution, both have the same rights.
The justice system cannot follow the vision of the “fringe” Hindu Rashtra, it has to follow the Constitution of India. The prime minister and the rest of his government not even condemning incidents such as the one in Jammu emboldens Hindutva’s stormtroopers, and puts a serious question on the credibility of the Indian state as a whole.