Horror in the hills: Himachal angry over brutal gangrape & murder of schoolgirl
The serenity of Himachal Pradesh has been rocked by tremendous public anger. The conscience of the people has been shaken by the unprecedented episode of abduction, gangrape and brutal murder of a 15-year-old school girl in the Kotkhai area of Shimla district.
What has followed is a series of public protests, candlelight marches and outburst of anger on the streets.
The state government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to crack the case, and there have so far been six arrests.
Protestors are referring to the victim as 'Gudia', and this brutal incident is all set to reverberate across the hills in the run-up to the forthcoming Assembly polls. Politicians are also trying to reap political gains in the matter.
But this is not a simple case of crime. There is much more fuelling this anger among the public.
The incident and the probe
The victim was abducted while she was on her way back from school on 4 July. Her family members launched a hunt for her and also informed the police.
Two days later, her body was recovered from the nearby Haliala forest without clothes. She had been strangulated and her limbs had been broken. Her body also bore numerous deep injuries, including on her face.
The victim belonged to the Theog area and was staying at her uncle's house in Kotkhai.
Reports say that the police have made the first arrest in the case after interrogating 29-year-old Ashish Chauhan. Five others were arrested later on Thursday.
People from all walks of life, led by students from different organisations, have taken to the streets in protest. These protests have, till now, been mainly confined to Shimla and Solan districts, primarily because Shimla is the state capital, but they are expected to spread to other parts of the state as well.
The general information doing the rounds is that the accused are locals from well-to-do families. Some police officials also believe that looking at the brutality of the crime, it can be assumed that it was committed under the influence of drugs, and probably, the victim too had been drugged. These aspects are expected to emerge during the course of the investigation.
Amidst all this, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh's Facebook page committed a faux pas – it first uploaded pictures of the four suspects and then deleted them. The page is operated by his staff.
It has only added to the growing pressure on Virbhadra, since he himself hails from the upper Shimla region.
Social fabric damaged
Local residents say this incident has immeasurable damaged the social fabric in the hills. “It is an area where the topography and settlements dictate that a large number of children have to walk long distances to school and back home. This crime has led to a scare and an increase in concern among all those parents. It is an area where people know each other and offering to drop children to school or giving them a lift back home is a very common and accepted practice. Such things will lead to people not having faith in each other,” said a resident of the Kotkhai area.
People are also angry over politicians trying to score brownie points while pointing to the deteriorating law and order situation. “This is a case where people have to rise above everything, since it concerns their day-to-day lives. No politician should be allowed to hijack this. We are just looking for the police to make the arrests, and the law giving exemplary punishment to the culprits. The word doing the round is that the culprits are locals, which makes the incident more explosive, as it points to the changing value system in the hills,” the resident said.
The drug angle
The possible involvement of drugs is another thing which has flown right in the face of the hill society's image of itself. Locals point out that easy drug money has led to changing social behaviour over the years.
It is a well-known fact that derivatives of cannabis, which grows as a weed in these parts, have been finding their way to the plains, right up to places like Mumbai and Goa over the decades. To make things worse, a lot of youngsters from these areas who go to the adjoining state of Punjab and also Chandigarh are also getting hooked to pharmaceutical drugs, which have become a big menace in Punjab.
While the government of Punjab and the Chandigarh administration have started taking stringent measures to stop the sale of pharmaceutical drugs without prescription, a large number of them are still available easily in parts of Himachal.
People are also annoyed at the fact that despite some powerful politicians coming from the upper Shimla areas over the years, nothing concrete has been done to check the flow of cannabis drugs down the hills. It is well known that charas often finds its way to the plains not only via the main route to Delhi, but also through Uttarakhand, which shares a border with these parts.
“All this drug supply has continued right under their noses over the decades, and they have failed to nip it in the bud. Of late, charas has been fetching very good money to those involved in its supply,” said a resident of Shimla.
OP Sharma, a retired officer who had made a lot of drug recoveries in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh during his stint with the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), said: “There are ample provisions in the law to stop production and cultivation of drugs right at the grass-root levels. If it is not being done, it shows that the law enforcement agencies are not doing their jobs. The same is the case with pharmaceutical drugs, whose pilferage and supply needs to be nipped in the bud.”
Sharma has advocated the need to set up an autonomous Narcotics Control Board in every state, comprising professional members who are experts in banking, finance, legal affairs, policing and enforcement. He has also suggested setting up an Inter-State Anti-Drug Vigilance Bureau, with officers of ADGP rank as members, which would monitor drug movement and provide inputs to the state-level Narcotics Control Boards to act on the ground.
“The main thing is that it is for the society to decide what it wants. The consumers and suppliers come from the same society. The people need to decide whether they want to generate black money from the drug trail, or whether they want to save the youth from this menace. And above all come the politicians that are chosen by them. They need to elect those having good political influence, who can tackle issues of unemployment, under employment, and fleecing by private educational institutions that are providing useless degrees,” Sharma added.