Sullen Hindus, Grieving Bakarwals: Uneasy Calm Post Kathua Verdict
They held onto hope in the morning, with elders assuring them that truth would triumph, but they were devastated by that afternoon’s verdict – the relatives of the Hindu accused were reticent and hostile with the media.
The Quint kept in touch with them via phone as they continued their journey up to Kargil in Kashmir.
The verdict and sentencing in the Kathua rape and murder case was announced on 10 June 2019, a year and 5 months after the 8-year-old Gujjar Bakarwal girl's body was found dumped in the Rasanna forests.
The case had polarised Jammu and Kashmir, with the Gujjar Bakarwals - a nomadic tribe, only nominally Muslim - being reclaimed as such in the national narrative, and pitted against the Hindu accused. But when the verdict finally came, it seemed a flat, anticlimactic end. There were no protests, no promises of retribution, only resigned acceptance.
Of the seven accused, six were convicted. Here’s a look at each of them:
- Sanji Ram - temple priest and main accused; chief conspirator
- Deepak Khajuria - police official who covered up the crime
- Parvesh alias Manu - the friend of the juvenile main accused (who is being tried separately)
These three have been convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 1 lakh each. They have also been convicted of gang rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison with a Rs 50,000 fine each.
The other three have been convicted of destruction of evidence and giving false information, and have been sentenced to 5 years in jail and a fine of Rs 50,000 each.
- Surender Verma - Policeman
- Anand Dutta - Policeman
- Tilak Raj - Policeman
The seventh accused was acquitted of all charges due to CCTV footage that placed him elsewhere at the time of the crime. The charge sheet alleged that he was called by the juvenile main accused to rape the victim.
- Vishal Jangotra - Son of chief conspirator Sanji Ram; Acquitted of all charges
Loud Protests Now a Whimper
Standing tall since the arrest of her father, main accused Sanji Ram, Madhubala has held herself together. She has traveled about two hours from Rasanna to Pathankot for each and every trial hearing, she says.
She was also at the forefront of protests at Koota Mod on NH-44. Under the banner of the Hindu Ekta Manch, she had the support of hundreds of other Hindus who believed she and the others had been wronged.
But as time passed, people stopped turning up and got busy with their own business. This seems to have stoked a bitterness in her that has only deepened since the sentencing and verdict. Family members told The Quint that she was inconsolable.
As they avoid the media glare, they've kept themselves surrounded by 'people who will understand them.'
"We will not talk to the media, you go away from here please," a man physically takes Deepak Khajuria’s relatives away from this reporter.
When asked if the Hindu Ekta Manch will stand with her again, Madhu, who looks emotionally spent, tells The Quint,
‘Don’t Agree With Verdict But Won’t Come Out on Streets’
Her deduction acquires more weight as we see who was present in solidarity at the court and who was not.
“Disgusted and disappointed by the verdict,” said Hindu Ekta Manch president Vijay Sharma, though he was not to be found anywhere.
"I could not come, I could not come," he says on call when repeatedly asked why he was absent when the verdict was being given.
Back in the courtroom, a corridor opens up to a hall where this reporter finds vice president of the Hindu Ekta Manch, Kant Kumar. He had been a prominent face on Koota Mod since January 2018. Right now, he is seated in blue pants and a blue and white shirt. Kant was also allowed entry into the Pathankot trial court when direct relatives of the Hindu accused as well as mediapersons were repeatedly denied entry.
"You have found us here as well. You are not going to leave us alone, are you?" Kumar asks The Quint with a smile that doesn’t look at all welcoming.
When asked about the verdict, Kumar looks blankly ahead at a wall like he is still processing that six of the seven accused have been held guilty. "I will be honest, we did not expect this. We didn’t think it’d be this bad. We had a feeling that truth would prevail," he says.
A few metal chairs away on the right is 77-year-old Bishan Das Sharma, who had told The Quint in February 2019 that a 'Hindu cannot commit such a crime.' He says while they do not believe the verdict they have no choice but to make peace with it.
A day after the verdict The Quint met Bishan at his residence in Rasanna. He said after coming back home he has not switched on the television. "Ye judge jhoot bol rahaan hai, bika hua hai. Aapne dekha kaise ragad diya inlogo ne humein. (This judge is lying, he has been bought by money. Did you see how they [Gujjar Bakarwals] beat us hollow)," he said.
"Do you know the history of Muslims? "Musalmano ke comm mein rehmat nahi hoti hai, unki tarakki tab bhi hoti hai jab vo logo ko maar daalte hai. Barso se aisa hi chala aa rahaan hain. (In the Muslim community there is no concept of mercy, the progress in life is only when they kill people. This has been the case with them for generations.)”
An Unsatisfactory Verdict, Even for the Bakarwals
Away from the commotion at Pathankot, the family of the Gujjar Bakarwals are scattered across Kashmir. While the eight-year-old's biological mother and father are in Anantnag in different places, the adoptive father is ahead of Kishtwar, and her elder brother is close to Srinagar.
Reacting to the verdict, the elder brother, 18-year-old Shaad* tells The Quint, “I was happy when the verdict came out, but at least one had to have been hung to death.”
Her mother tears up a little, saying,
Her father Amjad* sounded confused, "How is this enough punishment? Do they not know how she was abducted and murdered?" he said.
The girl's adoptive parents have a house close to Rasanna where she went missing from. Right now, that home is empty with a few security guards stationed outside to protect the structure.
"Of course I feel scared about going back and living there post the verdict. But, I do not care for that anymore. I wanted justice for my child. If I have to forgo that house, I will. But this punishment is not enough," Yassir* tells The Quint.
While the Hindus remain bitter about the verdict, they realise they have to accept it. Without the Hindu Ekta Manch, the family of the accused find themselves deserted, without any real support.
The Bakarwals are still coming to terms with the punishment meted out, and with whether it can make up for their loss. The loss of their 8-year-old child who was abducted, sedated, bludgeoned to death and found dead in the forests of Rasanna, which they once considered their home.