On Friday, the major editions of India’s largest selling newspaper, Dainik Jagran, published a front page article that said: “The girl in Kathua was not raped. Postmortem report only talks of injuries. Chargesheet of the Crime Branch comes under doubt.”
The article was published just four days after thousands of protestors had come out on the streets across India to demonstrate against an incident in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district, where an eight-year-old girl was found dead on January 17, a week after she had gone missing in a village. The chargesheet filed by the Crime Branch of the state police on April 9 said she had been held captive in a temple, drugged, raped repeatedly and then strangled. “As per the report of medical experts, the victim was found prima facie raped before being killed,” it said.
A day after the Dainik Jagran report appeared, Jammu and Kashmir police reiterated this in a statement. “In the last couple of days, a section of print/electronic media has published/broadcast information/reports shared on social media sites as well, which are far away from the truth,” it said in a press release. “Constrained by this reportage, it is to place on record that on the strength of opinion submitted by medical experts, it has been confirmed that the victim was found subjected to sexual assault by the accused.”
Dainik Jagran claimed on the basis of a conversation with one of the defence lawyers that there were two postmortem reports. The police has denied this claim. “First there is the autopsy to ascertain the cause of death and then there are forensic reports – histopathology and toxicology – during which we found that she was drugged,” said an official of the Crime Branch.
While Dainik Jagran has questioned the Crime Branch, which took over the investigation from the district police, the official said: “The autopsy was conducted on January 17, the same day the girl’s body was found and the case was still with the district police.”
The postmortem examination was conducted at the district government hospital. In the report, which Scroll.in has reviewed, doctors observed blood stains on the labia, blood stained discharge inside the vagina, lacerations or cuts on the vulva and a hymen that was not intact.
Dainik Jagran reported that injuries were found in the postmortem but emphasised that the report did not mention rape.
“The postmortem report will not talk of rape,” said Vrinda Grover, lawyer and human rights activist, pointing to government guidelines that clearly ask doctors not to use the term in medical reports in sexual assault cases. “The issue of whether an incident of rape/sexual assault occurred is a legal issue and not a medical diagnosis,” state the guidelines which were framed in 2014.
Examining the postmortem report, Dr Jagadeesh Reddy, a forensic medicine expert in Bangalore who was part of the committee that drafted the guidelines, said: “Sexual assault cannot be ruled out because of the genital injuries.” He said media reports that suggested otherwise were “baseless and wrong”.
Legal experts and doctors caution against media speculation on the medical reports, saying the evidence will be weighed in a court of law.
Scroll.in contacted one of the defence lawyers and asked him to share what he claimed were the two postmortem reports. He shared a forensics report and a letter by the medical superintendent of the district hospital. In the letter dated March 3, responding to the police’s queries about the nature and circumstances of the girl’s injuries, the board of doctors at the hospital said: “the injuries mentioned could be because of any form of sexual assault”.
The eight-year-old girl belonged to the Muslim Bakarwal community of traditional shepherds that migrates seasonally between the regions of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the police chargesheet, her alleged rape and murder was a plot to “dislodge the Bakarwal community” from Rasana village, where her family lived. All eight accused, including two policemen, are Hindu.
In February, many residents of the area mobilised under the banner of the Hindu Ekta Manch and oranised protest rallies, claiming that the accused men had been framed and demanding that the case be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation. These rallies were supported by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, who were ministers in the state government.
After the chargesheet was filed on April 9, the case made national headlines, sparking outrage. The BJP asked the two ministers to step down. Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintained a silence for days, and when he finally spoke, he only asked that rape not be politicised. On April 21, the government brought an ordinance making the rape of girls below 12 years punishable with the death penalty.
The same day, however, the Dainik Jagran story was shared widely on social media. The online version of the story had been taken down on April 20 but was later restored. Dainik Jagran’s digital editor, Kamlesh Raghuvanshi, told Newslaundry that although the reporter “had seen” the documents, the story was taken down till he could send them to the editors. Once that was done, the story was reinstated.
On Facebook, a group called ISupportNamo, which describes itself as supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with a following of 15 million people, shared the story, saying “Whole conspiracy to defame Hindus exposed.”
Last weekend, the weekly newspaper The Sunday Guardian published a piece that again sought to rule out rape in the Kathua case, albeit more slyly. It used the real names of people involved in the Kathua case but the article was labelled as “Fake News” with a disclaimer at the bottom: “This article is a pure concoction based on fiction. Any resemblance with any character or event is unintentional and coincidental.”
The Sunday Guardian piece continues to circulate on the messaging service WhatsApp – minus the disclaimer.
Meanwhile, on social media, film actor Swara Bhaskar was targetted for starting an online campaign denouncing the alleged rape in Kathua, which was followed by other celebrities. Messages were sent to the online retailer Amazon, asking it to drop Bhaskar as a brand endorser, and #BoycottAmazon briefly trended on Twitter.
On the ground, the polarisation is taking a more worrying turn. After a series of peaceful protests in cities across India, a protest by Muslim residents of Burhanpur town in Madhya Pradesh turned restive, The Times of India reported. Three policemen were injured, a few vehicles were damaged and shopkeepers were forced to pull down shutters.
The girl in Kathua might have become the victim of a conflict between the Hindu residents and the Muslim Bakarwals of Rasana village. But as this piece explains, the religious overtones came mixed with anxieties about land. These local specifities are now getting blurred and the case is dangerously becoming part of the larger communal polarisation underway in India – one in which the majority Hindu community is cast as the victim.