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Kathua Rape-Murder Verdict Today, Tension Heightens in Jammu

What if the accused are convicted? Hindu Ekta Manch says, “Can’t comment, but there’s been pent-up anger in people.”

Updated
India
4 min read
Kathua Rape-Murder Verdict Today, Tension Heightens in Jammu

"What is the verdict? Have those who were arrested for Aafreen's* rape and murder got off scot-free?" asks Muhammad Aslam*, the 8-year-old Kathua rape-murder victim's father, with an urgency in his voice.

When told that the verdict of his daughter's case is not out yet, but will be in a matter of days, he repeats in a loop, "Main chahata hoon ki unhe faansi mile, main chahata hoon ki unhe faansi mile (I want them to be hung to death, I want them to be hung to death)."

Too caught up to read the whole story? Listen to it here:

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The people he is referring to are the seven undertrials for the rape and murder of his 8-year-old daughter Aafreen. Belonging to the nomadic Muslim Gujjar Bakarwal tribe, Aafreen was sent by her parents to fetch their horses when she was abducted. Between 10 and 17 January 2018, she was repeatedly raped, sedated and kept in a Hindu devasthan (prayer hall) and eventually bludgeoned to death, according to the police chargesheet.

Her body was found on 17 January morning, 500 metres from the prayer hall, by a Hindu tribal man in Kathua's Rasanna forests.

Aslam’s Empty House Still Has Guards

While the main accused, Sanji Ram's lawyer, AK Sawhney previously told The Quint the verdict would be out on 4 June, a police official involved in the case said that was untrue. The Kathua victim's lawyer clarified that the verdict will be presented on 10 June in the Pathankot trial court at 10:00 am.

The nomadic tribe Aslam belongs to travels with their livestock between Jammu's Kathua district to Kargil in Kashmir each year. They spend about five-six months in their home in Jammu during the winter and head to Kargil in the summer. Currently, therefore, their house lies empty. Aslam is in Kishtwar, around 250 kilometres ahead of Kathua. Aafreen's mother, Neemat*, is already in Kashmir with her relatives.

Even though the house is empty, security guards are stationed outside. Considering that their home is very close to Rasanna village, where the main accused are from, Aslam says solemnly, "I don't mind leaving that home and our property for good. Our priority is that our daughter Aafreen's brutal death be avenged.”

The Gujjar Bakarwals stay in Jammu during the winter months and head to Kargil in the summer.
The Gujjar Bakarwals stay in Jammu during the winter months and head to Kargil in the summer.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Hindu Ekta Manch’s ‘Pent-Up Anger’ If Verdict Doesn’t Go Their Way

Vijay Sharma, president of the Hindu Ekta Manch, vehemently protested against the investigation of the crime branch. "Around 500 members of the Hindu community congregated at the Parsurama temple on National Highway 44 on 23 January in 2018, to voice only one demand – that the case of the Kathua rape victim be moved to the CBI. This is how the Hindu Ekta Manch was born,"  said manch vice president Kant Kumar.

The Hindu Ekta Manch protesting at the Koota mod for a CBI investigation in April, 2019. One year later, this group practically collapsed.
The Hindu Ekta Manch protesting at the Koota mod for a CBI investigation in April, 2019. One year later, this group practically collapsed.
(Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer/The Quint)

Calling the investigation 'harassment,' the manch was on the road for months after the incident, demanding a CBI inquiry. They issued threats and ultimatums to the then Mehbooba Mufti-led BJP-PDP J&K government and accused her of appeasing the Muslim nomadic tribe in the investigation.

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Days ahead of the verdict, Sharma said the 'Hindus are scared in Kathua as they know innocent people are being implicated in false cases'.

When asked if the manch will return to the streets if the verdict is not in their favour, Sharma says, "I cannot comment on that now. But one thing I will say for sure: There is pent-up anger in people since the day this case came to light."

Its vice president Kant Kumar told The Quint the mood in Rasanna village, where most of the accused are from, is sombre. "We have no expectations at all from this verdict. After our demand of the CBI inquiry fell apart, we have nothing more to add. We have no faith in the crime branch's inquiry."

The Supreme Court intervened in the matter and moved the trial out of Jammu to Punjab’s Pathankot in May 2018. However, what is clear is that even if the court pronounces Sanji Ram and the others guilty, the Hindus of Rasanna are unlikely to accept the verdict.

It will only be a reaffirmation of their distrust in the crime branch and its investigation – which they have zero faith in. On the other hand, Aafreen's father is willing to forgo returning to his property adjacent to Rasanna village.

On one side, the Muslim nomads have pinned their hopes on the court. On the other hand, the Hindus believe the evidence upon which the court will adjudicate the case is tainted.

This case further polarised the Hindus and Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir in 2018. All eyes will be on 10 June to see how the communities will react to the verdict and which way it will go.

(*Names changed to protect identity.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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