Kathua And Kashmir

0

In goriest kidnapping and murder of the Rasana Bakerwal girl, the special court verdict came in record time. Of eight accused, one was acquitted, three got lifers and three others five-year term in jail while as the lone minor is being tackled separately. But Saima Bhat laments over the delay in various other cases of minor rape victims in Kashmir

Sanji Ram’s Manch used India’s National Flag to mobilise masses against the police investigation.

The fast-track court took just 18 months to complete the trial and announce its verdict in the horrific kidnapping, gang rape and murder of an eight-years-old Bakerwal girl in Kathua’s Rasana belt. Seeming a normal crime initially, it turned out to be gruesome, heart-wrenching crime after the state police Crime Branch completed its investigation. The verdict is seen as a victory of justice and truth.

In January 2018, the victim was drugged, held captive in a temple and sexually abused for days together before being strangled to death and then crushed with a stone. It took three months for commoners to register their anger after the media reported the details and the conspiracy. As the right-wing political parties wished to take a different route, it added a new angle to the crisis as BJP lacked options other than asking three of its ministers to put in their papers from the cabinet that was then presided over by Mehbooba Mufti.

Eight people, including a former government official, policemen and a juvenile, were charged in connection with the crime. Post-investigation, the communal tensions in Jammu led the Supreme Court to shift the trial court to Punjab. This was done after a group of lawyers attempted to prevent the submission of the charge-sheet before the trial court in Kathua.

The in-camera trial started on May 31, 2018, in Pathankot and concluded on June 6, 2019, after nearly 240 hearings. The prosecution, as per around 400 pages judgment copy, produced 114 witnesses in support of its case while the defence team brought 14 witnesses.

The Jammu and Kashmir government had asked a Gurdaspur-based senior lawyer Santokh Singh Basra and Pathankot district attorney Jagdishwar Kumar Chopra to appear for the prosecution side while as the accused were represented by at least 47 lawyers.

The trial court’s verdict by the District and Sessions Judge Pathankot Tejwinder Singh not only confirmed the police investigation but also revealed the mindset of the prime accused, Sanji Ram, and the co-accused who said in court about their anger against the Muslim community. Of the eight accused in the case, the court announced punishment for six accused; one of them, Vishal Jangotra was acquitted and a minor will be tried separately.

Three main culprits accused Sanji Ram, Parvesh Kumar and Deepak Khajuria, were convicted and sentenced to life for murder and 25 years in prison for gang-rape. The other three, police officials, were given a five-year jail term each for destroying evidence.

Jangotra, the prime accused Sanji Ram’s son, was acquitted for the lack of evidence, underlined lapses in the investigation. The court said the prosecution has failed to verify Jangotra’s alibi during the investigation and blamed the Jammu Crime Branch for withholding the best evidence against him. The Crime Branch is going in appeal against his acquittal.

The verdict vindicated the State Police Crime Branch that had already emerged as the hero sleuths after they concluded the investigations and filed the charge-sheet. The team did not spare even the cops, their own colleagues. Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Special Police Officer Surender Verma and Head Constable Tilak Raj who now got a five-year term for washing some blood-stained clothes, concealing the victim’s necklace and hair band, and misleading the investigating police team about the place of occurrence of the crime.

The investigation was fairly quick, and the charge-sheet was prepared in only two months. The trial lasted a year, and the verdict has been delivered within 18 months of the occurrence of the crime. This is the net difference that a fast-track court can do.

As is the routine, the convicts will go to a superior court for an appeal. Given the water-tight case, it seems quite a tall order that the trial court verdict is undone. The Crime Branch officers led by Afad-ul-Mujtaba may appeal against the acquittal of the son of the primary accused.

The watertight investigation has made the particular team that worked under Mujtaba and was led by Romesh Jalla, Naveed and a number of DySP rank officers, a textbook group in criminal investigations. One of the members of the team said the case was very sensitive because it involved politics. The case led to the dismissal of BJP’s two cabinet ministers and indirectly impacted the health of the BJPDP coalition. Within a month after the Crime Branch filed the charge sheet, the government collapsed.

Right now, the debate is if the victim was a minor, why the rapists and murders did not get capital punishment. The then Chief Minister had supported for the capital punishment for minor rape victims. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also supported the move.

The Kathua verdict is being seen as a huge landmark in the battle for justice. But there are various cases hanging in the fire. Though these cases have not such sensational details but the goriness is not different.

There were two cases where the families are still waiting for the judiciary to proceed with the capital punishments already announced by the trial courts.

The first case was reported from Mehjoor Nagar in 2005 where a six-year-old girl was raped and later killed brutally.

The victim family fought the case amid pulls and pressures, silently and after 12 years, exactly two years after the last hearing of the case the district court sentenced the convict, Farooq Ahmad Pinzoo, for capital punishment on December 2017, just a week before Kathua incident happened.

“The case was later shifted to the High Court where a division bench is hearing the case and so far the case was listed at least ten times,” an informed source said. “Many times, the case was not argued as the prosecution officer was not present on the hearing dates. Now the case is again listed for September 5.”

This case under FIR 180 of 2005 was termed as the “rarest of rare” cases by the second additional sessions Judge Srinagar while passing the judgment: “He shall be hanged till death”. But the case is still moving at the snail’s pace and the family is waiting for the conclusion.

The second case was reported, on June 27, 2007, from Handwara where 13-year-old Tabinda Gani, was gang-raped and then killed by four persons, two of them non-locals.

Tabinda, a resident of Batpora, Handwara, was a seventh standard student. That fateful day she was kidnapped by four young men; two of them were local Kashmiri boys with a criminal background. They tore apart her clothes. When she resisted, they beat her up and then took turns to violate her. Fearing detection, the assailants slit her throat and dug up a small grave where she was buried.

The body was found naked with a pencil in her hand. For the next 21 days, Handwara remained closed and the people were demanding justice. The police once again proved their competence and zeroed in on the real culprits and booked them under relevant sections of the law. The accused, Mohammad Sadiq Mir alias Saeda Choor, Azhar Ahmad Mir alias Billa, both residents of Langate, Handwara, Mocha Jahangir Ansari from West Bengal and Suresh Kumar from Rajasthan, had laid an elaborate trap for Tabinda.

Last year, in August 2018, one more corpse of a minor was found in Lari hamlet in Boniyar where an eight years old girl child was gang-raped and then brutally murdered by five people, including two of her family members. Her body was found decomposed in the forests. The Boniyar police station registered an FIR under No 43/2018 under section 363 RPC and then launched a manhunt and nabbed the culprits. The case is still going on in the local court.

The Crime Branch team that cracked the Kathua case: (L-R) Naveed Peerzada, Romesh Jalla and Afadul Mujtaba. KL Collage

Very recently another incident happened in Sumbal (Bandipora) where it was alleged that a local attempted to rape a three years old girl. The main accused was arrested soon after the locals sensed foul and the police registered an FIR number 81/2019 under section 363/342/376 in a local police station. The case also triggered sectarian tensions.

The violent protests took places at various parts of the Kashmir and claimed the life of Arshad Ahmad. He was hit by a teargas shell and later died in the hospital. The police have constituted an SIT and the Chief Justice of the High Court took a suo motto cognisance and directed Kashmir Police Chief to submit his report in a week.

The police filed a charge-sheet against the accused in 17 days.

Kathua verdict gave a hope to all these families. But these cases are being tried in courts which are not fast track courts.

Timeline

Jan 10, 2018: Eight-year-old Bakerwal girl goes missing in Rasana (Kathua) while grazing cattle.

Jan 12: FIR registered on complaint of victim’s father at Hiranagar police station.

Jan 17: Girl’s body found. Autopsy confirms rape-murder.

Jan 22: Case handed over to J&K Police’s Crime Branch.

Feb 16: Right-wing Hindu Ekta Manch protests in support of one of the accused.

March 1: Two BJP ministers attend a rally by Manch after arrest of nephew of a temple caretaker.

April 9: J&K Police file charge-sheet against seven of the eight accused.

April 10: Chargesheet filed against eighth accused, a minor.

April 14: BJP ministers who attended the Manch rally resign from Cabinet.

April 16: Trial begins in Kathua. All plead ‘not guilty’.

May 7: Supreme Court shifts case to Pathankot, directs trial to be fast-tracked and held in-camera.

June 3, 2019: Trial concludes, verdict reserved.

June 10, 2019: Verdict announced.

Leave A Reply

*