Kathua Case: Fearful Bakarwals Oppose CBI Enquiry

Written by Sagrika Kissu | Published on: May 2, 2018

Newsclick caught up with the community as it moved up the mountains with its animals in an annual summer ritual.


Kathua Rape Case
 
The solitary and isolated house of Chaudhary Gulam Mohd Khatana is perched high on a mountain in Jammu region’s Doda district. A woman is feeding the buffaloes. A gust of breeze disturbs the dupatta that veils her face and she stops her work to set it right. Deep down in the valley, one can see the Chenab River and hear the muted roar of its rushing waters. With the arrival of summer, Khatana and other Bakarwals - the nomadic cattle and goat herding tribal community – have moved up from places like Kathua lower down to mountains in Doda, Badarwah and Khishtwar. Their animals prefer the cooler heights and fodder is plentiful in the meadows.

But below this idyllic peace is a simmering sense of fear and disquiet in the family, as in the whole Bakarwal community. The rape and murder of eight-year-old Bakarwal girl in Rasana village of Kathua district in January and the subsequent tumult has left the community scarred and terrified. The filing of chargesheet which revealed the horrendous torture that the tiny girl was put through, her abduction, repeated rape and ultimate murder, and the chilling conspiracy behind it shook the country. But for the Bakarwals, it was much more than that.

Khatana speaks both Gojri (a local dialect) and Kashmiri, but is comfortable with the latter. He has been worrying about the future of his community after the gruesome incident.

"We have never felt this vulnerable. As the news of rape spread, we couldn't sleep for many nights. We are more careful and vigilant now," said Khatana, adding that those who raped the little girl had no religion or caste.

According to Khatana, the incident has created fear among the Gujjar and Bakarwals who believe this was all a part of a conspiracy to evict them from the area.

Khatana is flanked by his brother Gulam Ahmed, who is impatient to say something himself.

"We believe this to be the part of conspiracy, as the plan to evict was already in place and it was revealed after Lal Singh became the Forest Minister. Singh has been brutal towards us. He has fenced the areas we live in and has explicitly asked us to leave the Jammu area. Eviction drives have substantially increased after he became the minister," said Gulam Ahmed.

Recently, BJP leader Lal Singh reportedly issued directions to District Forest Officers asking for the removal of encroachments from the forest land. He was also accused of threatening the tribal community by reminding them of the 1947 massacre.

"We clearly remember when Lal Singh asked us to remember 1947 and leave the area. Why are they bringing 1947 over and over again? Isn't it because in 1947 majority of Muslim population was killed and disloged from the state? Is the rape of the child another reminder of this?" Ahmed added.

CBI enquiry to suppress the case
After the submission of charge sheet by Crime Branch the local residents in Kathua and Jammu launched protests and demanded a CBI enquiry. The local outrage was supported by BJP leaders and the Bar Association of Jammu. Their demand was unanimous - they wanted a CBI enquiry, nothing less. Locals from the Hindu community of Rasana supported by assorted right-wing fringe groups have been protesting for the transfer of case to CBI.

The Bakarwals see these protests and the CBI enquiry demand in a different way.

"CBI enquiry is a conspiracy to suppress the case. It is an organized move. Have you noticed that none of the cases that CBI handled in Jammu and Kashmir have been successful? They were closed down citing no evidence. This is what they want to happen. They want to suppress this case," says Khatana.

As he talks, a curious little girl comes in to the room. Looking at her face, the wrinkles on Khatana’s forehead deepen.
"We knew they don't like us. But we never thought them to stoop this low," he says, pulling the girl into his lap and hugging her. The memory of what happened in Kathua to the girl who was murdered haunts his eyes.

Go to Kashmir
According to Gulam Ahmed, people from their community have been previously threatened to leave the Jammu area. They are often asked to go Kashmir and not come back. Gulam recalls an incident when their shanty was put on fire by the other community.

"We are not seen as Gujjar or Bakarwals. We are seen as Muslims. Whenever there is a stone pelting incident in Kashmir, we are threatened by the locals of Jammu. They once even put fire to our hut and we had to take a refuge in a Sikh's house for a month," Gulam said, adding that, the Hindu-Muslim divide has deepened and now they fear for their lives.

As evening descends on the mountains, the sound of Chenab grows deeper. Khatana counts the number of family members inside the house and closes the door for the night.

Courtesy: Newsclick.in