Pathankot: A local court in Pathankot Monday sentenced three accused in the Kathua rape and murder case to life imprisonment and three others to a 5-year jail term. Earlier in the day, the court had acquitted one of the seven accused in the case that involves the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Bakerwal girl.
Three accused — local leader Sanjhi Ram, special police officer Deepak Khajuria and friend of Ram’s nephew Parvesh Kumar — have been sentenced to life imprisonment under section 302 (murder) and to 25 years imprisonment under section 376 D (gang rape).
The other three accused — SPO Surender Kumar, sub-inspector Anand Dutta and head constable Tilak Raj — have been sentenced to a 5-year jail term under section 201 (destruction of evidence).
A seventh accused, Ram’s son Vishal Jangotra, has been acquitted in the case. The court said the prosecution was not able to establish the case against him.
The plea of an eighth accused is pending before the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, challenging the decision of the trial court order that he was a juvenile when the crime was committed. The juvenile is Ram’s nephew.
Defence counsel A.K. Sawhney confirmed that they would move the Punjab and Haryana High Court to appeal against the conviction of all six. The prosecution would also appeal against Jangotra’s acquittal.
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The verdict comes almost a year after the trial was moved to Pathankot in Punjab on the orders of the Supreme Court.
It is the result of 275 days of intense hearing, which saw over 128 witnesses being examined by the prosecution and defence.
Judge Tejwinder Singh presided over the last round of arguments in the in-camera trial on 6 June when the prosecution submitted authorities on the point of law. The defence, however, had not argued the case after wrapping up submissions on 30 May.
The court had also wrapped up examining evidence on 27 May.
The chargesheet was filed in the court last year on 30 May after the initial chargesheet was filed in the Kathua court in April.
Defence lawyers have confirmed to ThePrint that four non-official witnesses out of the 114 prosecution witnesses had turned hostile during the trial. This was apart from the 14 witnesses presented by defence in this case.
What happened in the case
The rape and murder of the 8-year old, who belonged to the nomadic Bakerwal community, had led to outrage across the country. It had assumed communal overtones and fed a raging controversy in Jammu, with some Right-wing groups coming out in support of the accused.
The child’s abduction and murder, according to police, was part of a plot to drive out members of her nomadic Bakerwal community from Rasana village in Jammu.
According to police, the accused include Ram, the suspected mastermind, who is a former revenue official and a local strongman; his son Vishal Jangotra, a college student; police officer Khajuria; Ram’s 16-year-old nephew who is the juvenile, and his friend Kumar.
In his confession, Vishal is alleged to have told police that the victim’s only fault was that “she was born in a family of Bakerwals”.
The accused, however, argued in court that the Bakerwal community had an axe to grind with all of them and thus the entire “crime was planned”.
The four pillar motive ranged from the Bakerwals being disgruntled about the police creating obstacles in illegal cattle trafficking to illegal land grabbing tactics being thwarted by the police.
But as ThePrint had reported, one spot of blood on the frill of the girl’s frock helped police crack the case.
The blood confirmed by the Delhi forensic lab had proven that the frock was worn by the eight-year-old Bakerwal girl during the crime, and allegedly tied together all other pieces of evidence found at the scene of the crime.
The crime has stoked communal passions in the politically sensitive Jammu region.
The arrest of the accused had triggered demonstrations in Kathua and neighbouring areas amid claims that the investigation was unfair and demands for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.
The protests were led by a new group, the ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’, which was backed by BJP leaders Lal Singh Chaudhary and Chander Prakash Ganga — both former ministers in the the then PDP-BJP government.
This report has been updated to correct the number of accused held guilty. It also incorrectly stated that the accused were sentenced to life term. The error is regretted.
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