My family migrated to Jammu when I was barely six-years-old. They had migrated in 1986, three years before the mass exodus by Pandits. But like others we could never go back.
Although many of our relatives were also victims of communal violence and forced to flee the Valley, I fortunately never felt bitter or vengeful. The credit goes to my late father who believed in humanity and not revenge. Indeed, our own travails helped me develop an empathy for the vulnerability of the weak and the small. I am thankful that I could develop a better understanding of communal societies and minority communities.
As a lawyer for the victim of the Kathua rape and murder that has rocked the country, I represent a family that is poor, persecuted and from the most marginalised communities in the state. It is a family that owns very little and knows even less about judiciary, courts, police or politics.
When a colleague and friend, Talib Husain, himself a lawyer, first approached me, he was in favour of a CBI inquiry into the crime to unravel the truth. My advice was that we should pray for a court-monitored inquiry and leave it to the court to decide on the investigating agency. The government constituted the SIT and the High Court decided to monitor the investigation in response to our petition .
Whatever doubts Talib and I may have had were swiftly dispelled by the chargesheet filed by the SIT in record time. The professional work done by the SIT was evident. Contrary to several reports, the team had relied a lot more on scientific and forensic evidence than on statements of witnesses. As senior advocate Indira Jaising said in the Supreme Court, it was a dream of a chargesheet; that even if witnesses turned hostile, the evidence against the accused would hold.
Curiously, several members of the Jammu Bar have been supporting the demand for a CBI inquiry after trying to stop the SIT from filing the chargesheet. How could lawyers take law in their own hands, even when they knew that legally they had no leg to stand on?
But even before I could realise what was happening, I found myself in the eye of a storm. Overnight my colleagues turned against me, described me as anti-Hindu for taking up the case, anti-Jammu for relying on the charge sheet filed by the SIT. I was threatened on social media. Seniors declared that I would not be forgiven. Members of the Pandit community declared I was a disgrace to the community and I was shocked to find my character questioned, my personal life torn to shreds.
Strangely, similar hostility is not being faced by SSP Ramesh Kumar Jala, who headed the SIT and happens to be a Kashmiri Pandit. Nor has the lone woman DSP in the SIT, also a Hindu, being targeted as anti-Hindu! They are not being blamed for implicating innocent Hindus or for arresting the ‘wrong’ people.
What did I do to deserve such hatred? I am still of the opinion that we should keep our faith in the judiciary. If the SIT has indeed arrested and implicated the innocent, I am sure they would get acquitted in the court of law. People who are questioning the SIT outside the court should argue their case inside. It was the high court’s decision to form the SIT. It was the high court which monitored the investigation. But the right-wing tigers on the street have pointed no finger at them. Is it because I am a woman, an activist, a single mother that they have been emboldened?
The hostility is such that I no longer feel safe even in my hometown. I now know that I could get killed. Strangely, I have been thinking and even reading about Malala Yousafzai, who was shot for standing up for women’s right to education.
I must confess I now feel like an alien in Jammu. The Jammu I have known in my 38 years always welcomed people in distress and embraced them warmly. But something seems to have changed. It is no longer the Jammu I have known. The saner, cultured voices seem to have been silenced while the shrill voice of petty-minded bigots seem to be getting louder by the day.
On my return from New Delhi this week, after filing a plea in the Supreme Court for shifting the trial out of the state to Chandigarh, I am unnerved by the hate campaign gathering steam.
What kind of people put politics over the death of an eight-year-old? An innocent child raped and killed and all that some of us can see is the divide between Hindus and Muslims? I sometimes wonder what our society and country are coming to? If we call ourselves educated and civilised, how can we discriminate between people on the ground of religion? This politics of divide and rule is dehumanising us as a society. We need to understand this.
Let’s not forget that the eight-year-old was brutally raped and killed in January this year. The news caused no ripple. Those who are today shouting themselves hoarse on the street, were silent then. No, nobody in Jammy took out a candle-lit march for the child or show any sympathy or solidarity with the victim’s family. Why have they become vocal now? I suspect that even when they are demanding justice for her, they are shamelessly pursuing their own political agenda.
(As told to Ashutosh Sharma)