6 held guilty of rape, murder of 8-year-old in J&K’s Kathua, one let off
A retired government official is among the six people convicted on Monday in connection with the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua last year that outraged the country.
The girl, kidnapped as part of a strategy to drive out the minority nomadic community from the area in January 2018, had been overdosed with a cocktail of sedatives through her captivity and raped repeatedly. Four days later, she was strangled and then bludgeoned with a stone to make sure she was dead.
Three of the six have been convicted for gang-rape and murder. The other three include two policemen tasked to carry out the initial murder investigation but went about trying to destroy evidence. The seventh accused has been let off.
Sanji Ram, a retired revenue department official, was the key plotter. According to the police, he wanted to drive the nomadic Bakarwal community from his native Rasana village and incited his nephew to abduct the girl. His son, Vishal, has been acquitted.
The trial was shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir to a special court in Punjab’s Pathankot on the orders of the Supreme Court. The girl’s parents had approached the top court to get the case transferred out of the state because they feared for the lives of the family, friends and witnesses.
By then, Jammu and Kashmir’s Crime Branch had already moved to arrest the accused who were being supported by the right-wing Hindu Ekta Manch and BJP lawmakers. A videotape of the speech by two state BJP ministers that appeared to support the accused soon erupted into a huge controversy and brought the Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party and the BJP coalition government close to breaking point. PM Narendra Modi had then responded to the spiraling public anger, asserting that such incidents could not be part of any civilised society and promised to make sure that the culprits do not get away.
The BJP’s two ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government - Industries Minister Chandra Prakash Ganga and Forest Minister Lal Singh - were soon forced to step down. Lal Singh later parted ways and has formed his own party.
Omar Abdullah, the former J&K chief minister sought the most severe punishment for the accused.
“Amen to that (conviction). 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,” he said.
Mehbooba Mufti, who was the chief minister when the young girl was raped, welcomed the judgement and took a shot at its former alliance partner, the BJP.
“High time we stop playing politics over a heinous crime where an 8 year old child was drugged, raped repeatedly & then bludgeoned to death. Hope loopholes in our judicial system are not exploited & culprits get exemplary punishment,” she tweeted.
J&K BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta distanced the BJP from the row around the case. Gupta told news channel India today that the BJP did not have anything to do with the support to the accused extended by local leaders. “That was their personal stand,” he told the news channel.