Jammu and Kashmir divided over Kathua crime: What pride can there be in losing out on justice?

Jammu and Kashmir divided over Kathua crime: What pride can there be in losing out on justice?

New Delhi: An eight-year-old is sedated and gang raped in a prayer hall and then bludgeoned to death. Among the perpetrators are a police officer and a juvenile. The post-mortem report found that the young child — our child, your child — had lacerations on the vagina and her death was caused by “asphyxia leading to cardio-pulmonary arrest.”

The gruesome details of the pre-planned kidnapping, rape and murder of the child should make our collective blood boil, but that has not been the case in Jammu and Kashmir, a region deeply divided along religious lines.

The killing has instead sparked outrage across J&K, first because the Mehbooba Mufti government handed over the case to the Crime Branch following protests from the nomadic Bakerwal community to which the victim belonged. It then took a communal turn after an outfit called the Hindu Ekta Manch was set up by politicians in support of the accused. At the forefront of those who rallied behind the accused are two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members of the Mehbooba cabinet.

The fissures have only widened in a state where the two separate regions of Jammu and Kashmir appear to be at war with each other. Worse, Mehbooba’s Peoples Democratic Party and the BJP are involved in a dangerous tug of war despite being in an alliance that was stitched together in March 2015, in the hope of bridging the gulf between the two regions.

The late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (Mehbooba’s father), who was the principal architect of the alliance, was clear about why he wanted the BJP as an ally, despite opposition from his daughter, who had campaigned and sought votes on the main pretext of keeping the BJP out of the Valley. Jammu backed the BJP and the Valley voted in large numbers to keep the BJP out.

Despite the hard political reality that makes the BJP and the PDP strange bedfellows, Mufti was clear that joining hands was the only way forward. In the middle of nail-biting negotiations between the two, Sayeed flew out to Mumbai to play a few hands of bridge. There, in the financial capital, he also chose to do a few interviews, one of which was with this paper. He shared his thought process and did not mince his words.

“Ideologically we are North Pole and South Pole but the state has given us a historic opportunity to unite Jammu with Kashmir and to unite the state with India. It is important to connect the two regions and I believe I can do it. I am saying, delegate the responsibility to me. VP Singh (the late former PM) used to tell me that politics is the art of possibility and of managing contradictions. Let me tell you on record, I want to leave a legacy. I see an opportunity to mend the divide between the two regions of Jammu and Kashmir and I will form a government only with the BJP, or I’m out,’’ Mufti had told HT.

Mufti had the philosophical wisdom to back the decision he took then, but into its fourth year in power, Mehbooba must ask what kind of ‘legacy’ she is promoting by being part of an alliance that is clearly being stretched to its seam.

She has lost control of South Kashmir — PDP’s stronghold — where statistics back the contention that one young Kashmiri is joining the militant fold every three days. In Jammu, which must appear very distant to her — many miles further than it was during Mufti’s time — the BJP-backed lawyers association is waving the national flag to whip up fervor in support of rapists and murderers.

Politicians, across party lines, have taken great pride in referring to Jammu and Kashmir as the jewel in India’s crown. What pride, they must ask, can there be, in preventing a charge sheet from being filed; from justice being denied and finally, from a deepening political and communal fault lines being drawn?


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