Officer Probing Kathua Rape Case Upheld Dharma in its Truest Form

There’s something very poignant in what  Shwetambri Sharma, the female SIT member for Kathua case, told The Quint.

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Opinion
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There is something very poignant and thought-provoking in what  Shwetambri Sharma.
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There is something very poignant and thought-provoking in what Shwetambri Sharma, the only female member of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) for Kathua Rap case told The Quint. Apart from the usual tale of local police being comprised by bribes and influence, Shwetambari also mentioned the pressure she faced due to her caste and religious identity.

Needless to say, it is for the courts of law to judge the merit of the case, but the fact that many lawyers (supposedly the guardians of the law and officers of the court) who prevented the filing of the chargesheet – along with the activists of Hindu Ekta Manch – were vociferously defended by ministers, politicians, journalists, and even some intellectuals of a certain hue, does indicate something fishy.

In all likelihood, the minders and the mentors of the accused must have also approached other members of the SIT; but in case of Shwetambari Sharma they must have assessed that being a Brahmin, she would be more amenable to caste appeal and being a woman, more vulnerable to religious sentiment.

As most of the accused were Brahmins, they over-emphasised their surnames. They particularly tried to influence me and communicated through different means that we belonged to one religion and one caste and I must not hold them guilty of the rape and murder of a Muslim girl. I told them that as an officer of the J&K Police, I had no religion and my only religion was my police uniform.
Shwetambari Sharma

“As an officer of the J&K Police” Shwetambari might have “no religion”, and quite rightly so, considering the intent of those who were approaching her in the name of religion. But in fact she herself credits “Durga Mata’s hand” in the SIT being able to crack “this rape and murder mystery during the holy navratras.”

This part of her statement might come as a surprise to the self-appointed defenders of Hinduism as well as to the self-certified guardians of secularism.  But it is indeed the statement of a dharmik Hindu who has not surrendered her faith and ethics at the alter of an amoral political project.

Contrary to those who have no qualms in reducing religious faith and professional ethics into the instruments of cynical and violent politics, this officer displayed a robust sense of dharma. Her actions and words once again underline the fact, that more important than any holy book or scripture is the moral orientation and fibre of the person claiming to follow them.

This fact comes out most dramatically in a ‘staunch’ Hindu Nathuram Godse killing Gandhi — a self-proclaimed Sanatani Hindu. In other religious traditions also, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan on one hand and Osama Bin Laden on the other claim inspiration from the same holy book. Martin Luther King Jr on one hand and the white supremacists on the other claim to be true to the same word of Lord.

Gita, Quran, Bible may be read in many, in fact quite contradictory ways. The validity of any reading has to be ultimately judged on the touchstone of universal moral values earned by humans over many millennia.

The worth of an individual is to be determined on the basis of the acts committed in a concrete situation presenting  conflicting choices and causing crisis of conscience.

The word ‘sankat’ in traditional Indic expression ‘dhrama-sankat’ indicates precisely this. The term dharma is a multi-layered expression. Yudhisthira is indicating only one of these layers, when quizzed by the yaksha in Mahabharata he says, “The essence of dharma remains hidden, interpreters contradict each other, therefore the way to follow is the one traversed by greater souls.”

This is an empirical statement, which is valid under normal circumstances, the challenge, however, lies in the situation, when one is forced into a conflict between the way “traversed by greater souls” and the voice of one’s own conscience. In a situation of such moral crisis, the choice is not automatically given.

All ancient Indian religious traditions – Hinduism, Buddhist and Jain – reflected on the possibility of such situations, and in the process a consensus evolved on multi-layered meaning of the term dharma and on the moral responsibility of individual making the choice.

In certain situations, dharma indeed may refer to a meaning which is generally  prevalent in our times. In this sense, the term indicates faith, related practices and ways of the ancestors.

But, more importantly, and basically, dharma refers to the continuum of nature of things, social order and code of conduct. The dharma of water is to flow and that of fire is to burn, the dharma of a ruler (rajdharma) is to look after the welfare of all the subjects. This expression rajdharma has been quite famous and popular in Indian public life ever since a PM had to remind a CM of his rajdharma.

This brave lady officer similarly reminded us that the dharma of a government officer is to be honest to her duty and morally integrated in the task assigned; and not to fall for the temptations of  politics of religious and caste identity.

“The ways of the dharma are subtle” cautions Mahabharata, and it is with reference to this rich and subtle meaning of dharma, not in a sectarian sense that the assurance has been given that ‘if protected, dharma protects’ the individual as well as the community. That is the reason that the law books in Hindu legal tradition are called dharmshastras.

We have heard Yudhisthira resolving the dilemma of making sense of ‘contradictory interpretations of hidden essence of dharma’ by following in the  footsteps of greater souls. We also must realise the onus it puts on anyone in the position to influence people by acts or opinions.

That is what the expression ‘Mahajana’  in Yudhisthira’s response to yaksha implies. The point is made abundantly clear in Gita, when Bhagwan Krishna himself extols ‘Shrestha Janah” (people of high moral caliber and in position of being able to capable influence others) to act very carefully, as the people at large generally follow in the footsteps of ‘greater souls’. (III.21)

It is probably both ironical and inspiring in today’s situation that Kalhana, the great Kashmiri chronicler who in his celebrated Rajatarangini, described the preservation of dharma (the rule of enlightened law) and abhaya (absence of fear) as the supreme duty of a king. A society wherein the idea of dharma is reduced to the practice of amoral and cynical politics and attendant violence can never hope to enjoy abhaya.

It is primarily the duty of the state to ensure the preservation of enlightened and liberating notion of social order, and freedom from fear. But it is also the responsibility of each and every citizen to stick to moral values, and professional ethics, and not fall prey to dubious “religious sentiments.”

Those who manage to rationalise the heinous crime of a young child’s rape and   murder, even deny its very existence (as a ‘national’ and ‘nationalist’ newspaper  tried to do) in the name of dharmik or national pride can really learn something from this young lady officer who acted truly in accordance with her dharma.

(The writer is Contributing Editor for Hindi Quint. He can be reached @puru_ag. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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