In a memorandum submitted to the Bar Council of India on April 20, the High Court Bar Association in Jammu distanced itself from the April 9 lawyers’ protests outside the Kathua district court. The protests were aimed at blocking the state police from filing a chargesheet on the murder and alleged rape of an eight-year-old Muslim Bakarwal girl.
“As the chargesheet was filed in Kathua, and the obstruction, if any, caused in filing the same can be better explained by the members of the District Bar Association Kathua and fact remains that it can’t be attributed to the office bearers of the J&K High Court Bar Association Jammu,” the memorandum says. It does mention, however, that the Jammu bar association had earlier demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the Kathua case, and that the Kathua bar association was also supporting this.
This was necessary, the Jammu bar association said in its memorandum, to counter the “growing tendency of a sharp communal divide” created by the case. The state crime branch which is the current investigating agency, the memorandum alleged, had tried to communalise the case by claiming a “sacred place of worship of Hindus as a place of alleged occurrence of heinous crime, which is not believable”. It also alleged that the state police had extracted “false statements” by “torturing the three young persons” it had initially arrested.
The Jammu bar association also denied charges that it had threatened and harassed Deepika Rajawat, a lawyer representing the eight-year-old child’s biological parents, who had filed a plea in the Supreme Court asking for the case to be transferred out of Jammu and Kashmir.
It also asked that the credentials of those opposing a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry be verified. They included “so-called social worker Talib Hussain”, the memorandum said. In January, Hussain, who had been leading protests demanding that the accused in the case be arrested, was arrested himself for “creating a nuisance”.
Lawyers under the scanner
On April 10, the Jammu and Kashmir police had filed a first information report against the Kathua lawyers for rioting, assault or use of force to stop a public servant from doing his duty, and wrongful restraint. Nevertheless, on April 11, the Jammu bar association called for a shutdown across the region, ostensibly to demand a Central Bureau of Investigation investigation in the Kathua case, among other things.
On April 13, the Supreme Court took note of the lawyers’ alleged efforts to derail the police investigation and sought responses from the Bar Council of India, among others. Meanwhile, the Bar Council of India formed a five member fact-finding team on the matter.
On April 19, the Jammu bar association told the Supreme Court that it had not supported the Kathua lawyers’ protest. The Kathua bar association, meanwhile, told the court that it had withdrawn its strike on April 12.
The Bar Council of India team arrived in Jammu on April 20 to speak to members of the high court bar association, the Kathua district bar association and others. If any of the lawyers were found guilty of obstructing legal processes, the bar council had earlier said, it could consider cancelling their licences for a limited period or for life.
In the memorandum submitted to the bar council, the Jammu bar association claimed that it had indeed called for a Jammu-wide strike or “chaka jam” on April 11, but that had been decided in a meeting held on April 7, before the fracas over the Kathua chargesheet. It also claimed that the demand for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry had been dropped from the agenda on April 11 “as the matter had already landed before the Court of Law”.
The memorandum blamed the national media for a “vilification campaign” that had stained the secular credentials of the Jammu bar association.
Asking for the CBI
But the Jammu bar association also listed several reasons why it wanted the Kathua case to be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
First, because after the “lodging of the FIR, the honourable CM of the State declared that the incident involved the commission of rape and murder even when the post mortem/ autopsy report of the deceased victim was yet to be prepared by the medical board”.
Second, it questioned the changes in the composition of the medical and investigating teams. “The medical board was constituted twice,” said the memorandum. “The investigation agency comprising of SIT including the from Crime Branch was reconstituted thrice, each time headed by a different officer.”
The memorandum also cited the plea filed by Rajawat on behalf of the child’s biological parents, “wherein the petitioner alleged the police agency was not conducting its investigation fairly”.
Yet the memorandum mentions, more than once, a so-called plot to engineer a “demographic change” in Jammu. The Bakarwal community to which the Kathua victim belonged as seasonal nomads who migrate between Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu. The Gujjar community also follows the same patterns. The police chargesheet filed on April 10 stated that the girl’s murder was a plot to “dislodge the Bakarwal community in Rasana”, the village in Kathua district where she and her family lived.
The bar association had two main demands it aimed to press for with the April 11 strike, the memorandum says.
First, it demanded that an order issued by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on February 14 be reversed. This order had stayed all eviction drives against tribal settlements in Jammu until a a proper tribal policy was put in place. If absolutely necessary, such measures would have to be sanctioned by the tribal affairs department and no police cover could be given, the memo said. The Gujjar tribal community in the state to whom this notice primarily applied is largely Muslim. This was “part of a deep rooted conspiracy hatched by certain elements to facilitate demographic changes in Jammu province”
The memo also claimed that the April 11 strike had been directed at Rohingya refugees in Jammu, whom, it alleged, were responsible for the militant attack on the Sunjuwan army camp in February and were a “security threat”. The demographic change referred to in the memo, said Sachin Gupta, vice president of the Jammu bar association, related to the Rohingya and not to Muslims who were state subjects. “We can’t object to where a state subject wants to settle,” he said.
Finally, the memorandum held the state government guilty of “encouraging certain forces that are hell-bent to change the Jammu’s demography so that the minorities are made to feel insecure and toe the line of anti-national forces which are duly encouraged and patronized by foreign powers, especially Pakistan”.
The Jammu association also described itself as “nationalist to the core”, unlike its Kashmir counterpart, which, it claimed, “was a constituent of the Hurriyat”, the separatist political forum in the Valley. It had deployed all peaceful methods, the memorandum said, “to integrate the State of J&K in a progressive manner into the rest of the Country”. These efforts, as well as the struggle for the economic and political rights for Jammu, had forced it to boycott the courts on some occasions, the memorandum claimed.
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