The horrifying rape and murder of an eight-year-old child in the January of 2018 in the Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir sent shockwaves throughout the country.

Asifa Bano was kidnapped on January 10 and was allegedly held in a temple where she was raped, tortured and eventually killed. The corpse of Asifa Bano was found on January 17, 2018 – seven days after her kidnapping – a mile from the village of Rasna where she resided. Seven people, including a minor, have been arrested and charged with the crime, which includes four police officers.

All the accused were of the majority Hindu community and the deceased child was from the Bakarwal tribe, a Muslim nomadic community in the district.

Although, in a sickening progression of events, over a hundred attorneys of the Kathua Bar Association began to protest against the arrests of the accused. They attempted to prevent the Crime Branch officials from filling the charge sheet in the case, on April 9. The Crime Branch police were met with protests from lawyers in front of the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s office in Kathua.

the lawyers called for a bandh that rendered all courtrooms in the Jammu province defunct.

The lawyers were protesting in support of the Hindu Ekta Manch – headed by attorney Vijay Sharma –  which claimed the accused were innocent and that the arrests were ‘against their religion’, and tried to prevent the charges from being filed; the charge sheet was submitted eventually after police reinforcements arrived.

Two days later in a blatant display of misplaced patriarchy and deeply entrenched communal bias, they called for a bandh that rendered all courtrooms in the Jammu province defunct. These vile attorneys also took to chanting ‘Jai Sri Ram’, thus further confirming the communal aspect of the unwarranted and deeply inhumane and exceedingly unjust protests.

Attorneys and judges keep the criminal justice system working, but biased, sexist, patriarchal, communal and bigoted individuals cannot make good lawyers and will only fail survivors/victims and will continue to be a hindrance in the course of administrating justice. We as a society regularly fail victims/survivors of sexual assault, but for the entire criminal justice system to fail them is despicable.

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These lawyers might belong to any community, might hold any kind beliefs, but to be an obstacle to the deliverance of justice to a child who was a victim to such barbarism, due to communal aspects, doesn’t just make these people horrible attorneys who should be debarred. It also makes them reprehensible human beings who are responsible for our historical, continued and vile habit of failing victims/survivors of sexual crimes.

The downward and incessant spinning of their failing moral compasses doesn’t come to a stop just here. These attorneys went onto to threaten Deepika Singh Rajawat who is representing Asifa Bano in court.

On April 4, Rajawat was threatened by the head of the Jammu High Court Bar Association, B.S. Slathia. Rajawat was allegedly told by Slathia, “If you won’t stop, I know the means to stop you. Gandh felaane ki zaroorat nahin hain”.

The charge sheet clearly states that the kidnapping, rape, and subsequent murder of Asifa Bano was committed as an attempt for revenge from her family due to personal vendetta, but apart from this it was also committed to intimidate the Bakarwal community – a Muslim minority living in a predominantly Hindu district in Kathua – to move out of the area.

We regularly fail victims/survivors of sexual assault, but for the entire criminal justice system to fail them is despicable.

In light of a motive of this nature, the clear communal aspect of the crime cannot be overlooked. But the attempt by the attorneys to protect the rapists and murderers of a child just because they belong to their community is a threat to justice everywhere.

Attorneys act as mediators between the law and the common people. When an attorney brings his biases into a courtroom, they don’t just threaten the possibility of a fair trial to the victim and the defendant, they threaten the very core of the criminal justice system that claims it is in place to protect us. When the most crucial accessories to the functioning of the criminal justice machinery prove to be people of reprehensible moral character and bigoted beliefs, will our justice system ever be able to protect us?

Attorneys need to rid themselves of their biases, prejudices, hatred and extensive social conditioning before they step into a courtroom. Lawyers exist to aid the justice delivery process, to be a voice for those who cannot speak the language of the law or for those who no longer can speak at all.

For these very lawyers to foster, preserve and take pride in their biases and use it to hinder the delivery of justice to a child who was raped and brutally killed by men who thought they can get away with it, is deeply troubling. This is yet another testament to our collective failure as a society.

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Featured Image Credit: Deccan Chronicle

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