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6 convicted for Kathua girl’s rape and murder

The victim’s family, who are currently in the upper reaches of Kishtwar and Anantnag, said they were not satisfied with the sentence and demanded the death penalty for all convicted.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2019 07:31 IST
Surjit Singh and Vijay Dhingra
Surjit Singh and Vijay Dhingra
Hindustan Times, Pathankot
Kathua,Kathua girl’s rape,Kathua girl’s murder
Sanji Ram, one of the six men convicted in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir(Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo)

A district court in Pathankot convicted six men on Monday for the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomadic Muslim girl in Jammu’s Kathua region that stirred nationwide outrage and pushed the central government to introduce the death penalty for convicted child rapists.

In a 432-page verdict, judge Tejwinder Singh sentenced three men — caretaker of the temple where the crime took place, Sanjhi Ram, special police officer Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar — to life imprisonment and a fine of ₹1 lakh for criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping, gang rape, destruction of evidence and drugging the victim under the Ranbir Penal Code, applicable in Jammu and Kashmir, said prosecution lawyer Santokh Singh Basra.

Three others — sub-inspector Anand Dutta, head constable Tilak Raj, and special police officer Surender Verma — were sentenced to five years in jail and a fine of ₹50,000 each for destruction of evidence. The court acquitted the seventh accused, Ram’s son Vishal Jangotra and gave him the “benefit of doubt”. An eighth accused, a minor, will be tried by a juvenile court.

“The perpetrators of the crime have acted in such a manner as if the law of jungle prevailed. Heaven and hell are not geographical locations. Our thoughts, action and character create a situation of heaven or hell for us. Needless to say that commission of this devilish and monstrous crime has sent shockwaves across the society which meant the guilty need to be brought under the sword of justice,” the judge said.

But all sides appeared dissatisfied by the verdict. “We plan to challenge this decision in the high court and would seek death penalty as the crime which has been done with the minor girl needed to be dealt with a tough stance,” said prosecution lawyer Mubeen Farooqui. Defence counsel Ankur Sharma said the judgment was baffling and prejudiced. “This is not a case of rarest-of-the-rare as was cited by the prosecutors. If the court acquits the son of Sanjhi Ram, it cannot term him [Sanjhi Ram] as mastermind. We will definitely challenge this decision in Punjab and Haryana high court,” he added.

The victim’s family, who are currently in the upper reaches of Kishtwar and Anantnag, said they were not satisfied with the sentence and demanded the death penalty for all convicted. “Our hearts are bleeding. These beasts should be hanged,” said the girl’s father. “The verdict has been announced but our child will not come back.”

The far-flung village of Rasana in Kathua district was pitchforked to national attention in January last year after the eight-year-old girl, who belonged to the impoverished Bakerwal tribe that roams the region’s forests, was abducted from a temporary camp her family was staying on the outskirts of a Hindu settlement. She was subsequently drugged, held captive in a temple, and sexually assaulted for a roughly a week, before being strangled and bludgeoned to death with a stone near a stream in January 2018.

After weeks of slow-paced investigation, the police charge sheet said the girl went missing while grazing horses as part of a strategy to bully the nomadic tribe to abandon their camp and leave the area. But the charging of the six men, especially the priest, his nephew and his son, became a lightning rod in the region, sparking huge protests, demands to shift the probe from the Jammu & Kashmir Police and rallies in favour of the accused helmed by two senior state leaders, who were since removed by the BJP. Many local residents in Jammu felt the Hindu men were unfairly targeted, and demanded a CBI probe. Local politicians blamed Kashmiri leaders, especially then CM Mehbooba Mufti, of targeting Jammu. Lawyers in Kathua also prevented Crime Branch officials from filing a charge sheet in April 2018.

The hostility forced the prosecution to petition the Supreme Court. The day-to-day trial finally commenced in the first week of June last year at the district and sessions court in Pathankot in the neighbouring state of Punjab, 30km from Kathua, after the apex court ordered on May 7, 2018 that the case be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir.

The case in Kathua, and another rape of a 16-year-old girl in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao, galvanised people across India, stoked protests, and made the government in April approve an ordinance to allow courts to pronounce the death penalty for those convicted of raping children aged 12 or lower. The Centre later amended the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The verdict was largely welcomed by political leaders. “Welcome the judgment. High time we stop playing politics over a heinous crime,” Mufti tweeted. Union minister VK Singh hailed the verdict and said it gave hope that such brutalities would not go unpunished. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah hit out at state BJP leaders.“The guilty deserve the most severe punishment possible under law. And to those politicians who defended the accused, vilified the victim & threatened the legal system no words of condemnation are enough,” former chief minister Abdullah tweeted.

But one of the two BJP leaders who had backed the accused, Chander Prakash Ganga, remained defiant. “The acquittal of Vishal Jangotra makes us believe that somewhere there were loopholes in the investigation,” he said.

(with agency inputs)

First Published: Jun 11, 2019 00:17 IST