Almost six years after the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case, India had an eerie sense of deja vu with the images of the Kathua accused and the little girl circulating on the internet. Things however, hit a new low – the girl from the Bakarwal community was just eight, whom the accused first kidnapped, then allegedly murdered after 10 days of gang rape. Further, they abandoned her body.

Seven months after the rape and murder of the minor girl from Rasana village in Kathua district which brought the country to a standstill, there has been but a few developments in the case. The most recent one being that the Jammu and Kashmir crime branch has to submit supplementary charges, this week, before the Pathankot court. The charges will include further investigation done in the case against the eight people accused and on the basis of which the court will proceed with the hearing, reported NDTV.

The accused in this case are Sanji Ram, his son Vishal and his juvenile nephew, two special police officers Deepak Khajuria alias ‘Dipu’ and Surender Verma and friend Parvesh Kumar alias Mannu. Apart from these, two more names also surfaced in this case—Head Constable Tilak Raj and Sub-Inspector Anand Dutta, who allegedly took four lakh rupees from Sanji Ram for destroying crucial pieces of evidence.

The girl’s parents have been fighting for justice. After initial apathy and neglect from the police, they started a social media fight wherein they circulated the photos of the girl to seek justice for her.

It was in February that advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat met with the family and took on this case. Talking to SheThePeople.TV, she talked about the current state of the case and the proceedings in the court and said, “The matter is sub judice now. There are lawyers who are commenting and spreading false information which is actually damaging and intimidating the witnesses. But I want to say that trial is going peacefully and the atmosphere in the court is extremely conducive. Witnesses are going for prosecution and this what the current situation in the court is.”

In the past few months since 31 May 2018 when the trial began, many developments have taken place.

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TAMPERING WITH EVIDENCE

Earlier a J&K policeman has revealed that his senior did not deposit the girl’s clothes in the warehouse of the police station for forensic research to meddle with the evidence. Head constable Surinder Pal told the trial court on July 16 that sub-inspector Anand Dutta also intimidated him to record backdated entries when he submitted “concocted” evidence the next day.

He said that Dutta on January 18 came to Hiranagar police station with three pieces of evidence — a hair band, dupatta (long scarf), and shoes of the girl. Then on January 19, he brought three more pieces of evidence ash, a stone and a lock & key. The J&K crime branch alleged that Dutta tampered with this evidence to divert the information that the girl was found in a cowshed near a temple and not in the temple itself.

Besides this, he also produced four packets containing evidence—two of which had clay covered in blood, one had swabs from her body and the fourth contained her clothes. Dutta allegedly did not submit her clothes and instead washed them up before sending it to the forensic lab.

ACCUSED SHIFTED

On July 9, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the accused from Kathua prison in Jammu district to Gurdaspur district jail in Punjab. A bench comprising CJI Dipak Misra, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra also asked the Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir government to provide security to the trial judge and the Special Public Prosecutor of the case respectively.

On June 8, the district and sessions court of Pathankot had framed rape and murder charges against the seven men accused in the case and the eighth remains a Juvenile.

SC PROTECTS WITNESSES

During a trial on July 2, the Supreme Court bench asked three witnesses in the case to approach the Jammu and Kashmir High Court with their allegation that the special investigation team had harassed them. Sahil Sharma, Sachin Sharma and Neeraj Sharma are the key witnesses and the friends of one of the accused in the case. They alleged in the court that the Special Investigation Team had harassed them while recording their statements.

On the same day in the district and sessions court in Pathankot special public prosecutor JK Chopra said that the crime branch after carrying out a bone ossification test to ascertain the age of Parvesh Kumar alias ‘Mannu’ who claimed to be a juvenile in the case, submitted a report in the court which stated that he is 20 years old.

Talking about the security of the witnesses, Rajawat said, “We apprehend damage to our witnesses and it is for the security of the witnesses that courts has ordered strict non-disclosure of their identities.

CASE TRANSFERRED FROM JAMMU TO PATHANKOT

The Supreme Court also shifted the case from Kathua to Pathankot in Punjab about 30 kilometres away and ordered a day-to-day, in-camera trial in the case on May 8. The transfer happened because there were allegations that the proceeding could be biased because of political patronage the accused enjoyed in Kathua.

When the case was still being tried in Kathua, there was major resistance from the Kathua Bar Association and the Jammu Bar Association towards Rajawat as she fought the case for the victim’s family. The authorities also tried to intervene with the Crime branch and prevent them from filing a chargesheet in the case, but the police called for reinforcement and filed it.

While the whole country was mourning the horrific death of the young girl, the civil society along with lawyers from the Bar Association and ruling Bhartiya Janata Party staged demonstrations and protest march called the Hindu Ekta Manch to support the accused.

“I request the society to wait for the trial to end before coming to a hurried conclusion. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that justice prevails. That is the only way we can reach a civilized ending,”

The case garnered scrutiny for the sheer gory details of it being released to the public through social media. “The presiding officer is a balanced person and he is doing justice to the trial and maintaining a proper atmosphere in the courtroom,” said Rajawat.

“I request the society to wait for the trial to end before coming to a hurried conclusion. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that justice prevails. That is the only way we can reach a civilized ending,” she added.

Journalist Raihana Maqbool from Kashmir also weighed in on the current situation in Kashmir and if the civil society there is holding conversations on this case. She said that while the issue was raging a few months back, it has died down currently. “The lawyers’ forum and the intellectuals must hold conversations and keep pressuring the government to not loosen grip on this case. It should not reach the conclusion like the Asiya Neelofar case in Shopian in 2009 where still justice hasn’t been served.”

“In Kashmir when the accused involved in criminal cases are powerful and have political connections then it becomes very difficult for the law-enforcing agencies to do proper investigation. It is quite saddening,” Maqbool added.

People wait for the courts to serve justice in the case.

Picture credit- Teacakes Travel

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