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Exposing a Grim Reality

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Book Review

(‘The Girl from Kathua’ by Madhu Purnima Kishwar; Publisher Garuda Prakashan, Rs 649)

By Maria Wirth

Many Indians will remember the girl from Kathua, whose rape and murder got huge media coverage 5 years ago, comparable only to Nirbhaya’s case. Yet, while in Nirbhaya’s case there was evidence that the accused were involved, in the Kathua incident, there was no evidence whatsoever. The whole story was based on the ‘confessions’ extracted from a minor, Shubham, after torture in police custody.

However, the story he was made to confess, was rather unbelievable.

According to it, Shubham abducted the 8 year old ‘Muslim’ girl on the instigation of his uncle Sanji Ram Sharma, held captive for several days in a small Hindu temple, gang-raped and then killed and thrown into the forest. The ‘mastermind’ was claimed to be 60-year-old Sanji Ram. Six more persons were also implicated, including Hindu police officers. The evidence? No evidence but solely the ‘confession’.

Something didn’t seem right. Such a crime is unconceivable in a small village of 15 families where the inhabitants have great devotion for the Deity of the temple. The village had no crime. Sanji Ram was a respected elder who looked after the temple. Could he really have planned the abduction, rape and murder of a small girl? A Hindu allowing his nephew and son to commit rape, of all places, in Devasthan, a temple? And then casually tells them that now it’s time to kill her?

I feared that the girl would not get justice, in spite of the massive outcry for justice. #JusticeForA**fa trended on Twitter. Bollywood stars and other celebrities held up placards mentioning “Devisthan” as the place of the crime to shame Hindus. A TV anchor shouted at panelists that they “support rapists and murderers”, only because they supported the demand from villagers, lawyers and politicians from Jammu for a CBI probe. Media used its clout to pronounce the accused guilty in a highly irresponsible way.

Thankfully, Madhu Kishwar has over 3 years painstakingly researched what happened. Her book has lots of documentation including parts of the charge sheet, interviews, screenshots, photos, and introduces the different persons involved and their role in this sad saga right at the start, with Mehbooba Mufti and PDP on top of the conspiracy hatchers at the behest of Pakistan. The last chapter talks about the wheel of karma, which meanwhile hit Mehbooba Mufti and several lawyers and activists, and about the tragic consequences of Hindu dhimmitude.

A second volume will be published soon with further documentation.

The facts presented in the book are startling and need to be taken notice of. Media needs to revisit the case, and one would wish that the judicial process would speed up, since in all likelihood, if not certainly, innocent people are languishing in jail, which should be unacceptable to everyone.

However, judging from the aggressive comments, which Madhu Kishwar got on Twitter for writing this book, the likely agenda, which was pursued by convicting those Dogra Hindus, may be further pursued.

According to the author, this agenda is to drive out the Hindus of Rasana village, which is strategically important, as it is very close to the border with Pakistan. (Incidentally, this very same motive is attributed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to Sanji Ram, that he wanted to drive out the Muslim Bakarwals by committing this crime). After the Kashmir valley has been cleared of Hindus, it’s the turn of Jammu to be vacated by Hindus and Islamised. Sanji Ram was aware of land grab by Muslims since he worked in the irrigation department, and had resisted it. SPO Deepak Khajuria was in the forefront of fighting cow and drug smuggling. Both got life sentences. This surely serves as a warning for other villagers that they also could be implicated in a crime they didn’t commit, and therefore rather move out from their homes.

The book is captivating, though very painful at times. It shows how ruthless those in power can be. Mehbooba Mufti comes heavily under the scanner and how she used pliable ‘activists’ and police officers from Kashmir to terrify the Hindu Dogras and especially their youths who were arrested in big numbers.

It’s inexplicable, why the case did not unravel already in 2018, when evidence emerged that the charge sheet was obviously false. The only explanation seems to be that the investigating officers followed a script from above.

A glaring example: The charge sheet spins a story about Vishal, the son of Sanji Ram. It says that his cousin Shubham called him up in Muzaffarnagar where he was in college, and told him to come to Kathua and ‘satify his lust’ with a girl which he, Shubham, holds captive. It further details, on which date and time Vishal reached Kathua, how often he raped the girl in the temple and how he helped to dispose of her body.

However, Vishal was giving his exams at that time and the principal of the college, his landlady and his roommates testified that he was in Muzaffarnagar and NOT in Kathua at the crucial time.

Reading in the book, what happened next, left me truly shaken:

The J&K police officers took the CCTV footage of the college and never showed it to the judge. They told his landlady to destroy the photos which proved that he was in her house on the crucial days. And the most incredible thing: they arrested the 3 roommates of Vishal, took them to Kathua, tortured them and tutored them on what to say – to “prove” that Vishal was in Kathua.

Their narration -why they finally signed the police version (after their own brutal torture and after a completely broken Vishal was brought in who pleaded with them to sign) is very painful to read.

However, in front of the judge, the three roommates stood by the truth. The judge declared them as witnesses turned hostile and filed a case against them…

The conclusion from this is that truth didn’t count for the special investigation team. Common Indians telling the truth were either ignored or even coerced through torture, into telling untruth. It may be acceptable and even necessary to torture somebody, who evidently committed a brutal crime, to get at the full truth. But to inflict pain on common citizens to bolster untruth?

Fortunately, ZEE TV aired CCTV footage of an ATM where Vishal withdrew money and kept this footage in its possession. This was proof that Vishal was indeed not in Kathua. Yet in spite of it, he was kept in prison for over one year. The judge had to acquit Vishal, since the evidence of his innocence was in the public domain. Vishal was the only one who was acquitted.

The book reads like a thriller. Unfortunately, it really happened and how it will end, is not yet clear. The author did a great service in unearthing and documenting important facts and also curious incidents.

For example, the girl was photographed only once in her life – by her step brother two days before she disappeared. Without this endearing photo of the little girl, which was together with her name illegally circulated widely, the massive emotional campaign to pronounce the accused guilty, and demean Hindus in general, might have met with less success.

Justice must be done. So far, it seems, injustice was done – to the little girl and to those convicted for her murder in a sham investigation.

The subtitle of the book is: A Sacrificial Victim of Ghazwa-e-Hind.

This puts the likely motive for the murder of the poor girl into a nutshell. (Rape was not confirmed in the original autopsy).

(Maria Wirth is the author of “Thank you India”, which was released at the Dehradun Litfest.)