A special Pathankot Court on Monday, June 10, delivered its verdict in the Kathua rape case. The Court found six people guilty and sentenced three people to life imprisonment and three others to prison terms of over five years. The verdict was delivered by District and Sessions Judge, Tejwinder Singh. The six people found guilty include Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the temple where the crime took place and his friend Parvesh Kumar. Four police personnel were also found guilty in the case. They are Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria, Sub inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj and Special Officer Surender Verma.
The main accused in the case Sanji Ram, his friend Parvesh Kumar and a special police officer Deepak Khajuria were sentenced to life imprisonment for offences under Sections 302 (murder) of the Ranbir Penal Code. They have also been separately sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for the offence of gang rape under Section 376D of the Code and fined Rupees 1,00,000/- (rupees one lakh only)
Three police men – Special Police Officer Surender Verma, Sub Inspector Anand Dutta and Head Constable Tilak Raj – who had allegedly taken Rs 4 lakh as bribe from Sanji Ram for sabotaging the case were sentenced to five years imprisonment for destruction of evidence and fined Rupees 25,000/- (rupees twenty five thousand only)
The seventh accused, who may be a minor, was acquitted by the court. As the court announced the quantum of punishment for the six convicts, the prosecution indicated that it might file petition over the acquittal of the priest’s son and will challenge his age as he is said to be a juvenile. The girl’s family had demanded the death penalty. The prosecution will also plead for death sentence for the convicts.
Security arrangements were heightened around the court in view of announcement of the verdict.
Brief background of the case’s legal journey
The Supreme Court on May 7, 2018 had transfered the case from Kathua to Pathankot in Punjab amidst fears that the case might not get a fair trial within the state of Jammu and Kashmir due to the powerful political connections of the key accused. The day to day trial commenced in the first week of June last year at the district and sessions court in Pathankot in Punjab, about 100 km from Jammu and 30 km from Kathua, after the Supreme Court ordered that the case be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir.
The prosecution team, comprising of lawyers J K Chopra, S S Basra, Harminder Singh and Bhupinder Singh said they would examine the judgement and may go in for appeal against the sole acquittal.
According to the charge sheet, the eight-year-old girl, who was kidnapped on January 10 last year, was allegedly raped in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district. The child was reportedly raped while heavily sedated to prevent her from screaming or fighting back. Subsequently she was murdered and her body disposed off in the woods, where it was found on January 17.
The girl belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe and it was alleged that the crime was committed to scare the tribe away from the region. The case had become a bone of contention between PDP and BJP after two ministers of the saffron party, Chowdhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga participated in a rally which was organised by Hindu Ekta Munch in support of the accused.
Some lawyers of the Jammu Bar Association also held a violent strike preventing the police from submitting the charge sheet in the crime. Taking suo moto cognizance of the obstruction by lawyers and the special status enjoyed by accused in the State, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of trial of the case to Pathankot in the neighboring state of Punjab. Later, the apex court had ordered that the accused in the case should be shifted to Gurdaspur jail in Punjab from Kathua.