Are Kathua Lawyers Protecting the Rape Accused – What’s the Truth?
A lot has been said about lawyers who allegedly threatened the private counsel representing the family of the girl who was raped in Kathua.
On 9 April, around 100 lawyers of the Kathua Bar Association allegedly blocked crime branch officials from filing the chargesheet in the horrific rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl from the Bakarwal community in January. On 11 April, the lawyers called for a bandh, rendering virtually all courtrooms in the Jammu province defunct.
The Hindu Ekta Manch, which has similar demands, is headed by Vijay Sharma, an advocate himself. When asked about the Kathua Bar Association, Sharma, who is also the former president of the Hiranagar Bar Association, told The Quint that he “has jaan pehchaan (is acquainted)” with the lawyers from the Kathua Bar Association”.
Watch this space for an article on the Hindu Ekta Manch.
But is that the entire story? The Quint had three questions for the lawyers from Jammu, and has their answers here.
1) Did lawyers from Jammu intimidate and threaten Deepika Rajawat, the counsel for the family of the Kathua girl?
Deepika Rajawat told The Quint: “On 4 April, Slathia came to me and said ‘Look we are on strike, you shouldn’t appear for any case.’” Rajawat alleges that when she responded by saying that she wasn’t a member of the Jammu Bar Association and had important cases to appear for, Slathia told her: “If you won’t stop, I know the means to stop you. Gandh felane ki zaroorat nahi hain (There’s no need to spread filth)”.
“I got a bit scared and intimidated. I felt this man could cause me damage,” she said. When asked if she had received calls from other lawyers from Kathua or Jammu, she said: "No, not from anyone else. Just Slathia, who is the head of the association."
“Nobody stopped her or prevented her from defending her case. I just requested her that since she is practising here in Jammu, and is enjoying every facility provided by the Bar, she must abide by the resolution,” Slathia said.
2) Why demand that the CBI take over the case?
The lawyers insist that their demand to transfer the case to the CBI is in the interests of the family of the girl, and is not communal in nature as has been insinuated.
"We are pained as much as anyone else about the death of the 8-year-old child and we want justice for her. It doesn’t matter that she was Muslim and the alleged accused Hindu. But, there is sufficient evidence to create suspicion in the ordinary man that the minor may not get justice," Slathia said.
When asked to elaborate on the evidence in question, Slathia said he would not like to comment on it as the matter is subjudice, but went on to ask, “Why does Mehbooba Mufti have a problem with the case going to the country's premiere independent agency? This is being done to appease separatist sentiments in Kashmir, not anything else,” he alleged.
“The main reason for the demand is the way the investigation has been conducted. It has been particularly concerning. Around 40 or more kids were picked up from various villages in and around Rasanna. They were hit on the hands, beaten and tortured by the police to give statements that were manufactured by the police,” Kirty Bhushan said.
He further said, "The case moved from the Kathua police to an SIT and then a Special SIT and then the crime branch," emphasising the frequent change in investigating authorities.
Rajawat, meanwhile, is against the case moving to the CBI. "I am satisfied with the way the investigation has been carried out by the crime branch. There is no basis for the case to go to the CBI," she said.
Talib Hussain, a Gujjar-Bakarwal leader, said, "If the matter goes to the CBI, justice will never be served. It should stay where it is. We want the trial to be conducted outside Kathua though, in Chandigarh, where it will be heard fairly.”
3) Did lawyers from the Kathua Bar Association obstruct the filing of the chargesheet before the magistrate on 9 April?
"Yes, we were protesting outside the magistrate's room in the court premises. Yes, we were members of the Kathua Bar Association. Yes, we were demanding the case be moved to the CBI. Yes, things got tense with the local Kathua police present there,” Bhushan said. “But we never wanted to keep the crime branch from filing the chargesheet, nor did we make that kind of effort.”
“Lawyers must not obstruct justice,” the Supreme Court said on 13 April, taking cognisance of the issue and seeking responses from the Kathua District Bar Association by 19 April.
"We are happy that the SC has taken up the matter. At least someone is finally willing to listen to us," Bhushan said. When asked about the allegation that the Kathua lawyers kept the crime branch from filing the chargesheet, he said, "We didn't stop the team from going in. They went in front of us and got delayed as they didn’t have the requisite documents in place to complete the procedure.”
The Quint spoke to the SSP Crime Branch, SK Jalla, who said, “We got inside the Chief Magistrate’s office by 4:10 pm (on 9 April) to submit the chargesheet. We didn’t have the necessary photocopies of the chargesheet to hand it over to the accused.”
“The copies were in the car. We got in [the car] but couldn't get out because of the commotion that ensued. Hence, we went to the magistrate's home post 6:00 pm and completed the procedure," Jalla said.
The Quint has accessed the two-page report by the Kathua chief judicial magistrate of how the events of 9 April unfolded. Point two of the 7-point report reads as follows:
“Even after court hours, protests/massive demonstrations by lawyers continued. On account of this reason, accused were subsequently produced in custody [to complete the procedure of filing the chargesheet] at the residence of the undersigned [Magistrate]. It is here that copies of the challan along with annexures annexed herewith are furnished to all accused as required under law.”
This, then, brings us to our final question: Have the Jammu lawyers been misrepresented, or is this their attempt to reclaim the narrative?