It’s hard to find hope when everything around is moving into a dark abyss of misdeeds, hatred and sectarianism. When children yet to blossom into beautiful adults are sacrificed at the altars of nationalism, hatred, communalism. When a life is cut short way ahead of time and when those defending the child are also thirsty for blood. But blood, thick and red in colour knows no religion no reform. Snuffing out life from people will not bring change in the society.
In these dark times, one wonders, will there be singing? Where will the hope come from? They say, every story of oppression is also the story of resilience. The Kathua incident has also revealed to us, the many ways in which people fight. This is the story of two of them, both lawyers, both treading the path of justice, valiantly and gently with compassion.
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Deepika Singh Rajawat
“My daughter is five years old and her name is Ashtami. I am fighting this case also for her,” said the lawyer who is championing the cause of justice in the case of the brutal rape and murder of a minor child in Kathua. Her name is Deepika Singh Rajawat and she is an advocate in Jammu. A Kashmiri Pandit, Deepika’s family migrated to Jammu from their ancestral village Karihama in North Kashmir, four years before Hindus in the valley left over fears of attacks.
She took up the case of the Bakarwal child who was murdered in January and it was only after she filed a writ petition that the Jammu and Kashmir high court started monitoring the case and the Crime Branch took over the case. As soon as she decided to take up the case, many from the Bar engineered protests, shouting slogans against state government and asking, that the case be transferred to CBI from the Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir police. She too, started receiving the threats. Singh said she has been threatened by Jammu’s lawyers who have defended the accused and demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
However, Deepika’s demeanor is not that of fear. She isn’t the one to be cowed down by threats. She took to facebook a day after the incident, on April 5 expressing, “The president of the Jammu High Court Bar Association mistreated me. He used unparliamentary language and threatened me not to appear in cases during a strike by the lawyers.”
She stood vindicated when she received a letter from the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Saturday asking the in-charge of the security wing of the court to provide protection during her appearances. “But when I confronted the senior advocate and told him that I can fight any case I want, I was told there are ways to stop me. But this letter from the high court gives me strength even though there is a corner in my heart that is a little afraid. These are powerful people.” added Deepika.
Rajawat had also filed complaints with the Chief Justice of J&K HC and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court saying that she was not safe and she had no idea how long the protests by the lawyers’ body would go on. The Supreme Court took Suo Motu cognisance of her complaint and said, “It is settled in law that a lawyer who appears for a victim or accused cannot be prevented by any Bar Association or group of lawyers, for it is the duty of a lawyer to appear in support of his client, once he accepts the brief. If a lawyer who is engaged, is obstructed from appearing in the court or if his client is deprived of being represented in the court when he is entitled to do so in a lawful manner, that affects the dispensation of justice and would amount to obstruction of access to justice and interference with the administration of justice”.
Singh recently got a verdict in favour of a maid who was raped by a sitting judge in Jammu. “She was Hindu; how is this minor girl any different than her,” she said.
Talking about the future of the case, Rajawat felt that Crime Branch has lost precious forensic evidence (Apparently, the girl’s body was bathed and her clothes washed soon after she was found). She added, “It’s really messed up. The first few days after the crime was detected, some dreadful things happened. The local police station did not file an FIR. That happened only after 2-3 days. On January 17, her body was found. Then the ‘clean-up’ began. It was being hushed up. The policeman who did this is one of the eight accused.”
Rajawat said that though there have been setbacks, she was happy with what the Crime Branch did and the only hope to get justice is that the case should be transferred to some other part of the state.
At a time when efforts were underway to bury the case, these were the initiatives of the young lawyer Talib Hussain, who hails from Bakarwal community, that prevented the case from getting buried. Talib protested as the young girl was kidnapped which landed him in Hiranagar police station. Here he was detained and even threatened that he will be slapped with Public safety Act (PSA) if “he wouldn’t stop his activism”
As the Assembly was in session, the issue was raised by the opposition. Merely a day after her mention in the assembly, her body was recovered and Talib had to be set free by the police. Talib gave the confidence to the terrified family and the cluster of Bakarwals in Rassana belt to stand up and speak. Talib was the guiding force behind the family’s application before the High Court and his intervention led to the monitoring of entire investigation by the court. Having led the Gujjar Bakerwal Students Welfare Association, Talib moved across various university campuses from Hyderabad to AMU campaigning for justice for the girl.
Talib, himself, has a history of vulnerability and emerging from it. He was born in the nomadic community of Bakarwals, and lost his parents in Dooru in Islamabad during September 2014 floods. Talib graduated in Law from Jammu University in 2015. Feeling deeply about the crisis of his community across the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Talib left the Bar in Jammu in 2017 and decided to take up activism as a full time job. The main crisis the community faces today is that their temporary dhokas were set afire as part of the government policy in last three years.
Despite the submission of charge-sheet, Talib’s main worry was to trace the girl’s parents who had migrated earlier. He found them around Udhampur.
In Udhampur, while speaking at a planned debate on the question of “hanging of the rapists”, Talib faced threats and hostility. “I moved out of the open debate in Dabhar Park along with the family of Asifa and they dragged and beat me.” He said he has given a complaint to the police and does not the follow-up. Right now, he said, he is managing his injuries in Jammu.
Anti-nationals or Defenders of Justice?
“They are calling me anti-national and anti-Jammu; I am not an alien, I am from Jammu,” says Deepika. This is the crux of the magnitude of the problems human rights activists and defenders in India face today. Anything that goes against the political agenda of the ruling dispensation gets labeled as ánti-national’ or more funnily as ‘anti-Hindu’. It must be reinforced, that despite such labeling, one is willing to take the good fight ahead, and it is these small and big battles that can restore one’s faith in humanity.
Though two BJP ministers namely Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash ganga resigned following Mebooba Mufti’s meeting with PM Modi, and in the background of supposed threats by Ms. Mufti to end the alliance, this seems more of a political maneuver than any real closure. Both of them had participated in the infamous National Flag flaunting rally carried out by Hindu Ekta Manch in February.
Justice can only be served if the two lawyers and several others are provided an atmosphere of safety and assurances to be able to carry on their work. This should be accompanied by speedy trial of the accused and necessary punishment as may be befitting in the case. And also all attempts to deligitimize the meticulous investigation by Crime Branch need to be resisted tooth and nail. A safe environment needs also to be provided to the Bakarwals who have largely fled the area after the incident.