Following the brutal rape and murder of a little girl in Kathua in January, a dedicated team led by SSP Jalla of the Crime Branch overcame mounting political pressure to ensure justice prevailed. This is the story of their struggle, persistence, professionalism and humility.
Though the Kathua rape case took place in January, and a sustained campaign and protests were carried out locally (in Jammu and Kashmir), for bringing to book the perpetrators, the incident itself had escaped mainstream media’s attention. Alternative websites such as Sabrang and rights groups such as PUDR reported about the incident from their locations, gathering news from the local Kashmiri newspapers and portals. However, the filing of the chargesheet on Monday April 9, changed everything. It was a breakthrough that brought the focus to the incident, compelling mainstream media in India and International media to pick up the issue.
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The detailed investigation of the case was done by the Jammu and Kashmir Crime Branch, in a professional manner, led by Ramesh Kumar Jalla, the Senior Superintendent of Police. Large scale protests followed the filing of the chargesheet. While the investigation was still on, BJP’s ministers participated in protests for the release of the rapists. However, the investigators resisted this pressure and all the accused were arrested 10 days ahead of the 90 days deadline of the High Court expired.
Refusing to come under the pressure, SSP Jalla carried out a “thorough probe with arrests after arrests following.” The story of the girl’s abduction, confinement in a temple, subsequent multiple rapes, torture and ghastly killing thereafter could be exposed because of the firmness of investigation through tense weeks and months in J&K. Jalla was also crucial in exposing the Hindutva group, who had abducted her “to teach the nomadic tribe a lesson”, to strike fear into the hearts of the local Muslim community and to ensure that her death could be used as an example to intimidate the nomads from coming down to the Jammu region. Jalla could find some space because the PDP faction of the government with CM Mehbooba Mufti responded to the outrage in the valley for justice.
Expectedly, both the police team and the Crime Branch in particular faced a lot of pressure from right wing forces that dominate Jammu. Interestingly, the case was assigned to the Crime Branch after “clear signs were detected of police’s collusion with the criminals at ground zero”
The fact of rituals performed as the girl was getting raped by the alleged mastermind Sanji Ram, at least one of the accused brought in from UP and the involvement of local policemen-all this was investigated by the Crime Branch.
At the time of the filing of the chargesheet, apart from Jalla, the process was attributed to three officers Affadul Mujtaba, who heads the Crime Branch and Naveed Peerzada, an SP rank officer, who was the principal investigator. Jalla supervised the investigations. But the humility of officers was such that, they refused to take credit, “If you say that the investigation was carried out by three of us then it is grossly incorrect,” one senior officer said. “It was a huge team involving men and women who worked tirelessly for all these days.”
Despite a narrative being presented that “people were flown from Srinagar” in order to delegitimise the investigation as communal, the team did its duty. The fact is that the people involved in the investigation came from diverse backgrounds and all hailed from Jammu. DySP Nisar Ahmad Shah, for instance, is a post graduate in English and has done a special course in criminology and he is from Rajouri. Ms Shwetambri Gupta who hails from an influential Jammu dynasty was another DySP who investigated the case. There were many inspectors and assistant sub-inspector who contributed immensely to the investigations: Inspectors Kewal, Urfan Ahmad Wani, and ASIs Tariq Ahmad and Nissar Ahmad. They all are from Jammu.
The investigators worked day and night for the months that have followed the incident, without going on leaves and there were countless occasions in which they did not even have the time to take meals or take children to school.
One highlight of the investigation was that, so far it appears that torture wasn’t used as part of the process. A high ranking officer told Kashmirlife, “In criminal cases, when the chain is established, things come so automatically that you need to put in efforts and collect the pieces of evidence, “Since the investigation was being monitored by the High Court, the accused were supposed to be presented before the court every four days after the mandatory medical examination. Had there been such cases, the bench or the doctors would have noticed it.”
In the course of the investigation, the team examined 220 people and 130 of them would be the prosecution witnesses in the case. Officers involved in the investigation, however, believed that they just did their task, going against the black sheep among their colleagues too, “It was just a serious crime and investigators rarely see it from any other angle,” one officer said. “It was just a task.”
The investigation done in the case has broken many stereotypes and shown that how a group of people committed to the idea of justice can betray religious and political influences. The fact that Jalla is a Kashmiri Pandit is a tight slap on the whataboutery of regressive forces who are inclined to give the whole issue a communal angle since day one. The fact is this was a crime of unimaginable brutality and needed to be investigated with detachment and unbiased attitude, a task the crime branch under the leadership of Jalla seems to have accomplished just fine.
The investigation is remarkable in other ways too. Going against the general notion that torture is essential and hence normalized to police investigations, the investigation in this case solely relied on the hardwork, tenacity and commitment to trace the evidences, revisiting the crime site more than seven times and a determination to work as a unit. In an especially communally vitiated atmosphere laden by political bigotry and regressive hyper-nationalism, this case is ought to set an example of how it is possible to believe in the idea of justice if people do the “task” that they are supposed to do as part of law enforcement machinery.