More than a year after the case went to court, a specially convened fast track court has found six of the eight men guilty of gang-raping, torturing and killing an 8-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua. Three of the six convicts have been sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court in Pathankot, while the remaining three accused will spend 5 years in jail.
The case had led to outrage across the country in January last year, with Hindu right-wing groups and lawyers protesting against the arrest of the accused. All of them had also pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charges against them.
The eight accused include a retired government official, four police officers and a minor. Three of the six have been convicted for gang-rape and murder. The other three include two policemen tasked to carry out the initial murder investigation, but who eventually went about trying to destroy the evidence. The seventh accused has been let off.
The minor will be tried separately in accordance with India’s Juvenile Act, which is why seven people were subject to Monday’s court verdict.
On January 10 last year, the girl, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic community, was kidnapped and held captive at a village temple in Kathua, where she was drugged, starved and repeatedly raped for days. She was ultimately strangled and her head was bashed against a rock. The child’s mutilated body was found in a forest area on January 17, 2018.
Reacting to the judgement, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “Welcome the judgement. High time we stop playing politics over a heinous crime where an 8-year-old child was drugged, raped repeatedly & then bludgeoned to death. Hope loopholes in our judicial system are not exploited & culprits get exemplary punishment”.
After lawyers held protests at the Kathua court preventing the Crime Branch from filing charges in April, the Supreme Court had ordered that the trial be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir. All the accused, barring the juvenile, were shifted to Gurdaspur jail on the orders of the top court.
The girl’s parents have demanded capital punishment for two of those convicted – retired government officer Sanji Ram and police officer Deepak Khajuria – claiming that they were the “masterminds” behind the crime.
“If the culprits are not given the punishment we have been demanding, it will be a complete travesty of justice,” the girl’s father had said.
The lawyer representing the accused has pleaded for minimum punishment for the men, stating that the case was based on ‘circumstantial evidence’.