Three of the six convicted in the rape-and-murder case of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua were awarded life imprisonment by a special court in Pathankot today. The remaining three accused, all police personnel, were sentenced to five years imprisonment. The seventh accused, Vishal, was acquitted by the court.
The case – involving the kidnapping, rape and murder of the victim last January,had triggered protests and allegations that Muslim women are unsafe in Jammu and Kashmir as religious tensions increased across the country. After the lawyers in Kathua prevented the crime branch officials from filing the chargesheet in the case, the Supreme Court directed that the case be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir.
All of the men arrested accused in the rape case are Hindu, and Asifa’s nomadic people, the Bakarwals, are Muslim.
Charges of rape and murder were framed against seven of the eight accused in the case, with one of them pleading that he is a juvenile. The accused, if convicted, would face a minimum sentence of life imprisonment and a maximum of death penalty.
The case was handed over to the Crime Branch, following which a police sub-inspector and a head constable were arrested for destroying evidence. The main accused, retired revenue officer Sanji Ram, surrendered on March 20.
All the accused, barring the juvenile, were shifted to Gurdaspur jail on the orders of the top court.
Besides Sanji Ram, the others arrested in the case are his son Vishal, a “juvenile” nephew, his friend Anand Dutta and two special police officers identified as Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma. The policemen accused of destroying evidence are Head Constable Tilak Raj and Sub-Inspector Anand Dutta.
Investigations conducted by the Crime Branch suggested that the girl was raped and murdered allegedly by the accused in an effort to strike fear among nomads frequenting the Kathua area and drive them out.
The case also drove a wedge between the then BJP-Peoples Democratic Party alliance in the state after two BJP leaders – Chowdhury Lal Singh and Prakash Ganga – participated in a rally organised in support of the accused.
The Supreme Court ordered that the trial be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir after lawyers at the Kathua court prevented the Crime Branch from filing charges amid high drama on April 9. The prosecution team in the case comprise JK Chopra, SS Basra and Harminder Singh.