National Media, What Took So Long?
Three long months after an 8-year-old girl in Jammu’s Kathua district was abducted, raped, murdered and thrown away, Indian media and the society are finally talking and mourning the death of the minor victim.
The incident had taken place on January 10, just six days after the death of Pakistan’s six-year-old Zainab Ansari, for whom the entire nation came together in solidarity. Many changed their profile pictures on Facebook “seeking justice”.
The guilty in Zainab’s case has been given death sentence. In India, the 8-year-old’s rape witnessed two of the ruling BJP’s ministers leading a rally held in favour of the accused, threats to the victim family, communal violence, threats to the rape victim’s lawyer, and so on. Despite frequent developments in the case, a majority of ‘India’s most read/ watched/ trusted/ number 1’ media outlets failed to cover the little girl’s agony when it first came to light.
What took so long?
“After that little kid has left this world, after her parents have gone into depression, after everything is shattered, the people in India are now talking about giving justice to her? What took you all so long?” questioned the victim’s relative Hasham Din.
“Had her abduction not been as brutal as the charge sheet revealed, India would have still kept quiet…” Din paused and with a low voice he added, “…like they were all these months.”
It was the local media in Kashmir that had first covered the “alleged” rape and murder of the minor girl three months back. Later, after the charge sheet submitted by the Crime Branch “confirmed” the cruelty of the crime, national media started its “exclusive” coverage.
As per a Kashmir-based journalist Nisar Dharma, who was perhaps the first to report the “fringe elements” in this case, Indian media’s coverage which started only after looking at the “goriness” of crime show their “level of hypocrisy”.
“This happened way back in January, and after three months I see the Indian society talking about it, and national media all of sudden reporting the brutality of this case,” he said. “I feel strange.”
“As a journalist, I believe, this case should have gotten media attention right after there was a protest held in favour of the accused, which had political influence. Isn’t it evident that all these protests were nothing but a conspiracy to hide the truth?” he further questioned.
“But the national media did not care enough.”
The rally which was held on February 16 by the Hindu Ekta Manch under the presence of two BJP ministers, was covered by none apart from the local media in Kashmir and a few media-portals like The Wire, Firstpost, The Logical Indian, Scroll.
In print media, no other mainstream national newspapers apart from The Indian Express carried the news the next day. Along with The Indian Express, NDTV and CNN were among the only media outlets that followed the case and were regularly reporting it.
Despite all this, Sameer Yasir, an independent Srinagar-based journalist told BBC that for New Delhi, the story of the rape and murder of 8-year-old wasn’t “big”.
“When some of the reporters approached their offices in Delhi to tell them about the incident, the feeling was that the inauguration of a garden of tulips in the valley was a better story than the rape and murder of a girl,” Yasir was quoted as saying.
Dharma also said that the “exclusive revelations and developments” that are now being reported by the Indian media have already been covered by the locals.
For instance, recently, it was reported that the victim was not allowed to be buried in her own ancestral graveyard, which Dharma had reported way back on January 21.
Another local journalist Javid Ahmad, who has followed the case throughout, believes that “political inclination” could be one of the reasons behind the “lazy” coverage by national media.
“Why national media barring some, at the initial stage, ignored to highlight the case, only they can answer,” Javid said, adding: “Political inclination could be one of the reasons, maybe?”
Not politicians, but the common people… – A mother’s message
In a short phone conversation with The Logical Indian, the 8-year-old rape victim’s mother appealed the common people to “pressurise” the government and the law to take “quick action” against the guilty.
“I don’t care what the politicians have to say about my daughter, but it’s nice to know people coming out demanding justice for her after all that has happened in the past three months,” she said.
“Par (But)…” she paused, and added, “Bahot darr lagtaa hai…(We are really scared).”
How the Kathua gang-rape and murder unfolded
January 4: Mastermind Sanji Ram hatches the plan to abduct an 8-year-old girl to take revenge from the minority Muslim Bakrewal community in Jammu’s Kathua district.
January 7: Sanji Ram influences his nephew to kidnap the minor from the place where she regularly comes for grazing horses.
January 8: Policeman Deepak Khajuria, on directions from Sanji Ram, pushes the juvenile (nephew) to abduct the girl. He then shares the plan with his friend Parvesh Kumar (Mannu).
January 9: Local doping substances and sedative tablets are arranged to kidnap her.
January 10: The 8-year-old is kidnapped by Sanji Ram’s nephew and Parvesh Kumar. They both rape her one by one and lock her inside a local temple.
January 11: Sanji Ram’s son Vishal Jangotra is called all the way from Meerut to ‘satisfy his lust’ by raping the kidnapped 8-year-old.
The victim’s parents lodge a missing complaint with the police.
January 12: Police begins the search. Head constable Tilak Raj, for investigating officer Anand Dutta, asks for Rs 1.5 lakh bribe from Sanji Ram to cover up the crime. Ram’s sister Tripti Devi helps her brother by arranging the cash.
January 13: In the morning, at around 8:30 pm, Vishal Jangotra again rapes the victim, after which, Sanju Ram’s nephew also goes ahead and rapes her. In the evening, Sanji Ram orders to kill the 8-year-old. Before killing her, policeman Deepak Khajuria rapes her “one last time”. Thereafter, she is killed.
January 15: The minor’s body is dumped in the jungle.
January 17: Dead body is found by villagers.
January 18: Victim’s family is forcefully stopped from burying child at their own ancestral graveyard. She was then buried 7-8 kms away from home.
January 19: Sanji Ram’s 15-year-old nephew is arrested.
January 20: Strangely, four days after the victim’s dead body was found, police issues a “look out notice” in a local newspaper. Local media in Kashmir since the 8-year-old’s murder to be a part of a larger conspiracy, reports it.
January 21: Police arrest activist Talib Husain, after he staged a peaceful protest against the girl’s murderers.
January 22: Students from various universities, including Delhi stopped from staging protests.
January 23: Activist Talib Husain is released
January 23: Case handed over to Crime Branch for probe, a five-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed.
January 27: Local media raises speculation over Sanji Ram’s nephew’s age, who is believed to be a “juvenile”.
January 29: Victim’s family meets Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti seeking expeditious probe.
February 2: Fear and disharmony allegedly experienced in Kathua.
February 9: SIT arrests Special Police Officer (SPO) Deepak Khajuria, who had raped the girl before she was thrown away.
February 16: SIT arrests Surinder Kumar, a police officer who was seen at the crime scene.
February 17: Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM) holds protest in Jammu in favour of the arrested accused Deepak Khajuria. This was led by two BJP MLAs.
February 19: Several protests held in Kashmir, demanding justice for the minor girl.
March 8: Investigation reveals Hawaldar Tilak Raj, who was bribed by Sanji Ram, is arrested for destroying evidence by washing victim’s clothes that were soaked in mud and blood.
March 8: Hindu Ekta Manch again holds a rally. Police foil it by using canes and teargas.
March 9: As questioned earlier by local media over the “juvenile’s” age, Sanji Ram’s nephew turn out to be a ’19-year-old adult’.
March 13: Mastermind Sanji Ram goes into hiding.
March 20: Sanji Ram surrenders.
April 4: DNA reports confirm the minor girl was held captive in the temple.
Jammu lawyers begin a 4-day strike through multiple protests, of which, one was handing over the minor’s rape and murder case to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from SIT.
April 9: Lawyers in Jammu stop Crime Branch from submitting the case’s charge sheet to Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Kathua by chanting ‘Go back, Go back, Crime Branch Go back!’
April 9: Despite protest, charge sheet is submitted, which reveals heart-wrenching details of the minor’s rape and murder. Details shake the entire country, finally grabbing Indian mainstream media’s attention.
April 11: Jammu Bar calls for shutdown, communal violence grips the region. J&K police file FIR against the lawyers.
April 13: Two BJP leaders who had led the Hindu Ekta Manch rally resign. India speaks up, the media talks about the minor girl’s rape and murder and PM Modi, too, finally breaks his silence.
April 16: Kathua gang-rape and murder trial begins. J&K government has appointed two special public prosecutors, both Sikhs, to ensure “neutrality” in the case.
Zishan Amiri is a freelance journalist from Jammu and Kashmir.