On 16 April, the Jammu High Court Bar Association temporarily suspended an agitation that it had been leading for over ten days. Members of the bar association had been staging a strike citing several issues, the most controversial of which was their demand that the investigation into the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in the Kathua district be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation. BS Slathia, the president of the association, told the press that the protestors had “changed the mode of the agitation” and would be continuing their protest on two issues—the demand for the deportation of the Rohingya refugees residing in the state, and against the withdrawal of the minutes of a meeting during which the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti allegedly instructed the government officials to not act against any members of nomad groups residing in the region.
The bar association’s decision followed widespread and severe criticism it faced for its stance on the Kathua investigation. The Supreme Court issued notice to the association, seeking a response to allegations from a group of advocates that the bar association was obstructing justice. Observers, activists and other civil society members, as well as journalists, alleged that the bar association was acting at the behest of the BJP, and fomenting a communal divide in the Jammu region. But this is not the complete truth—a look at the political affiliations of the members of the bar association suggests a more complex background to its controversial stances. In particular, it illustrates the involvement of several other political parties that are active in the region, such as the Congress, the Panthers Party, and various right-wing outfits.
On 7 April, the Jammu High Court Bar Association called a meeting of its members, civil society organisations and politicians in the region. At the meeting, the bar association proposed a Jammu-wide bandh, on 11 April. The aim of the bandh, Sachin Gupta, the vice-president of the bar association told the press, was to ensure the state government met its demands regarding the Rohingyas, the tribal-affairs ministry meeting and the Kathua investigation.
Various members of the prominent political parties in the region attended the meeting—these included the Congress leaders Ravinder Sharma and RS Chib. Sharma is the chief spokesperson of the party, and Chib was formerly a minister in the Omar Abdullah government.
Slathia’s affiliation with the Congress has been reported widely—the president was formerly the chief election agent for Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. He was also a member of the legal cell of the Pradesh Congress Committee in 2014—the committee directs the party’s strategy in each state. Azad had appointed Slathia a spokesperson for the Congress’s campaign committee. (After news of Slathia’s role in the Congress’s 2014 campaign was reported, Azad told members of the press that the senior advocate had since “turned communal.”)