Jammu: The trial in the gruesome Kathua rape and murder case begins today against eight accused who allegedly held an eight-year-old girl in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district for a week in January this year during which she was kept sedated and sexually assaulted before being bludgeoned to death.
The accused include a juvenile against whom a separate charge sheet was filed. The chief judicial magistrate of Kathua will be committing one of the charge sheets, in which seven people have been named, to the sessions court for trial as mandated under the law. The chief judicial magistrate will, however, hold the trial for the juvenile as it is the designated court under the juvenile act, according to officials. The Jammu and Kashmir government has appointed two special public prosecutors, both Sikhs, for the trial in the sensitive case, a move being seen as made to ensure “neutrality” in view of Hindu-Muslim polarisation over the case.
The trial is expected to go smoothly after the Jammu Bar association as well as the Kathua Bar received a rap on the kuckles by the Supreme Court on April 13 as the apex court took a strong note of some lawyers obstructing the judicial process in the case. The Supreme Court initiated a case on its own record saying such impediment “affects the dispensation of justice and would amount to obstruction of access to justice”.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud was also critical of the Jammu High Court Bar Association, which had passed a resolution not to attend the courts saying “it is the duty of the bar association as a collective body and they cannot obstruct the process of law”. According to the charge sheets filed by the crime branch, the abduction, rape and killing of the Bakerwal girl was part of a carefully planned strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area.
It lists the caretaker of ‘Devisthan’, a small temple, in a village in Kathua, about 90 km from here, as the main conspirator behind the crime. Sanji Ram was allegedly joined by special police officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma, friend Parvesh Kumar alias Mannu, Ram’s nephew, a juvenile, and his son Vishal Jangotra alias “Shamma”. The charge sheet also names investigating officers head constable Tilak Raj and Sub-Inspector Anand Dutta, who allegedly took Rs 4 lakh from Ram and destroyed crucial evidence.
All eight are under arrest. The crime branch will also be handing over the notices issued to the Jammu Bar Council as well as Kathua Bar Council for appearing before the Supreme Court on April 19. The Bar Association of Kathua has already retracted from its earlier statement of providing legal assistance free of cost to the accused and said “after going through the charge sheet presented by the crime branch (against the accused in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate on April 9) it is revealed that the allegations against the accused persons are very grave and as such this case is to be dealt with in a professional way.
“As such, we have withdrawn our offer to contest the case free of cost. Accused are free to engage any individual advocate and exercise their respective rights of defence in the court. It is for any individual advocate to accept the brief and the bar association will not come in the way of defence nor the bar association will hamper the prosecution,” President of BAK Kirty Bhushan Mahajan had said in a seven page statement yesterday.
Members of the same association had blocked the way of crime branch personnel from submitting the charge sheet before the chief judicial magistrate for six hours forcing the police to present it at the house of the magistrate. Police have already registered a case against lawyers for obstructing public servants from performing their duty. The Jammu Bar association, which was left red-faced after the Supreme Court’s observation, attempted to put a brave face saying they had full faith in the apex court and said their main demand was for shifting of illegally settled Rohingyas.
It denounced the attempts made by certain quarters for making wrongful attempts to project the association as “pro-rapist” or “anti-national”. The association today fielded a senior woman advocate Surinder Kour who said “we are now satisfied that the case has reached the Supreme Court and we are satisfied that justice will be delivered to the minor girl.” JHCBA is on strike since April 4 and sponsored a general strike on April 11 in Jammu to press for its demands including for according district status to Nowshera sub division in Rajouri district.
“We included the demand for CBI probe into the Kathua rape and murder at the request of civil society,” Kour said and accused the state government of forcing them into agitation by “giving no response to our concerns despite repeated memorandums and statements.”