New Delhi: A local court in Punjab’s Pathankot Monday convicted six of the seven accused in connection with the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua last year that had sparked national outrage.
Along with the main accused Sanjhi Ram, Parvesh Kumar (a friend of Sanjhi Ram’s juvenile nephew) and Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria were sentenced to life behind bars and awarded 25 years in prison under the Ranbir Penal Code sections. Police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta and hawaldar Tilak Raj were also sentenced to five years each for destruction of evidence.
The girl, belonging to the nomadic Bakerwal community was kidnapped, gang raped and murdered by the accused men. The minor was allegedly kidnapped while she was out grazing horses on 10 January, 2018 and found dead nearly a week later. She was said to have been kept heavily sedated and gang raped before being killed on 14 January that year.
The crime had ignited national outrage and led to a political slugfest after some lawyers prevented the Jammu and Kashmir Police from filing a chargesheet against the seven accused. The incident later went on to deepen communal fault lines in the state.
Justice for the victim was fought on three fronts — lawyers representing the victim’s family, police officials who investigated the case and civil right activists who kept the issue alive on social media with hashtags such as #JusticeforAsifa and #KathuaRapeCase.
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Deepika Singh Rajawat, a Jammu-based lawyer with roots in Kashmir, represented the victim’s family in Kathua and petitioned for a transfer of the case to Chandigarh in the Supreme Court. Speaking to ThePrint, Rajawat said when she had heard about the case, she immediately contacted a journalist friend who put her in touch with social worker Talib Hussain.
Hussain emerged as the face of the campaign for justice, while Rajawat led the legal crusade. With the issue gaining communal colour in Kathua, Rajawat even filed a plea on behalf of the family seeking a CBI investigation into the matter and a transfer of the case to Chandigarh.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising too fought for the victim’s family in the top court. After hearing the matter, Dipak Misra, chief justice at the time, transferred the case to Pathankot and directed the local court there to conduct an in-camera day-to-day trial.
Hussain and Rajawat, however, courted controversy later, when the former was accused of rape and domestic violence while the victim’s family dropped the latter as its lawyer, claiming she seldom appeared for hearings.
Criminal investigation team
IGP Crime Branch Afadul Mujtaba, SSP Ramesh Jalla, SP Naveed Peerzada and Deputy SP Shwetambari are credited for cracking the case in record time.
Peerzada was especially praised for revealing the overall conspiracy involving Sanjhi Ram, after the juvenile confessed to the sequence of events and names of all accused in the crime. Police officials involved in the cover-up and destruction of evidence were arrested following the investigation led by the crime branch.
Civil society activists
Thanks to outrage expressed by civil rights activists, actors and human rights activists on social media, the issue was kept alive on the platform.
Prominent citizens in Jammu issued a statement condemning the rape and murder. It was signed by personalities such as Ellora Puri (faculty, department of political science at the University of Jammu and director, Institute of J&K Affairs), Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal (journalist), Rajinder Tikku (sculptor and a Padma Shri awardee), Ifra Kak (theatre artist) and Aditi Gupta (artist and research scholar) among many others.
Human rights and constitutional rights champions such as Arundhati Katju and senior advocate Menaka Guruswamy also spoke out against the horrific crime.
Others, including former JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid, social activist Kavita Krishnan, actors Richa Chadda, Swara Bhaskar and Farhan Akhtar as well as his father and lyricist Javed Akhtar and tennis star Sania Mirza, helped keep the issue alive on social media.
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