Shimla gangrape-murder: Police station burnt as protests rock Kotkhai after murder of accused in police lock-up
The body of a 16-year-old girl, who was allegedly raped and murdered, was found on July 6. Six people have been arrested in the case.Updated: Jul 20, 2017 00:00 IST
An accused in the murder and gangrape of a 16-year-old girl in Himachal Pradesh’s Kotkhai died in police custody early Wednesday, triggering violent clashes across the state that saw a mob burn down a police station and pelt stones at security personnel.
The accused, Nepalese national Surat Singh, was allegedly strangled by another suspect, Rajendra Singh, during a scuffle inside the lock-up around 3am on Wednesday, police said. News of his death sent ripples of anger through the Himalayan state as people shouted slogans, clashed with police and blocked arterial roads, demanding an overhaul of what protesters deem a shoddy probe.
Shimla superintendent of police DW Negi said a fight broke out between Rajendra and Surat around midnight inside the lock up. “Surat was rushed to hospital where he was declared brought dead,” said Negi.
The gangrape of the minor girl has rocked the poll-bound state where such crimes are uncommon. The girl, a Class 10 student, went missing on her way home from school on July 4 and her naked body was found two days later with injury marks. Since then, her photos have gone viral on social media as hundreds of people have come out on the streets to protest in candlelight marches, silent processions and road blockades. The state government also bowed to increasing public pressure and transferred the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The entire staff of Kotkhai police station, including the station house inspector, were suspended following the custodial death. Sources said the SHO kept all the six accused in two cells instead of keeping them in separate enclosures.
Surat Singh’s death sparked protests across the state as Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad members took out a rally in central Shimla. There were long traffic jams in the upper regions of Himachal Pradesh as people blocked the highway from Shimla to Kotkhai.
The epicentre of the incident – Kotkhai, around 60 kilometres from Shimla – resembled a war zone. In the afternoon, a violent mob of around 3,000 surrounded the police station, set it on fire and injured several personnel. The police fired in the air to disperse the crowd but failed as protesters surrounded the living quarters of personnel.
Unrest over the case has been simmering since the police claimed a breakthrough on July 13, and arrested six people: Ashish Chauhan (29), Rajinder Singh (32) of Sharaal village, Subash Singh Bisht (42) of Pauri Garhwal, Surat Singh (29) of Nepal, Lok Jan (19) of Nepal and Deepak (38) of Garhwal. They were produced before a court in Theog and sent to seven-day police remand.
The police alleged that Rajendra Singh offered her a lift to her village Shirguli, nearly five kilometers from the school. Rajendra was not alone and was accompanied by four-five friends who were drunk. The occupants of the vehicle pulled her out and raped her, police said.
But those arrested were different from the six men whose photos were being circulated on social media, and had also been temporarily posted on the official website of chief minister Virbhadra Singh. This raised further suspicion over the probe.
The incident has seen massive protests against the state government even in the Congress stronghold of Shimla as protesters called the investigation an “eyewash”. The outrage is also expected to singe the Virbhadra Singh government in elections scheduled for later this year as the opposition BJP is attempting to steer public anger against the government and police for going slow on the probe into the case.
Virbhadra, also the state’s home minister who is facing several cases of corruption, has come under criticism from even his own party men for the slow progress in the investigation.