Days after six people were arrested for the rape and murder of a minor girl in Kotkhai, one of them, Suraj Singh, a 29-year-old labourer from Nepal, was allegedly killed by the main accused, Rajender Singh alias Raju, 30, at the Kotkhai police station late on Tuesday night.
The news of Suraj’s death triggered protests in Kotkhai, 56 kilometres from Shimla, and other parts of the state on Wednesday. Protesters surrounded the Kotkhai police station and pelted stones, before finally torching the police station. Three police vehicles were also set on fire. The crowd, however, spared the residential quarters, where the families of policemen were lodged.
Police had to resort to lathicharge and fire two rounds in the air to disperse the crowd. About half-a-dozen policemen and some residents were reported to have been injured in the clashes.
According to police sources, Suraj was lodged in a cell with Raju and another accused, Lokjan alias Chotu. At around midnight on Tuesday, a police guard reportedly heard a noise and went to the cell. He reportedly found Suraj lying in a pool of blood. Inspector General of Police (South) Zahur Zaidi said Suraj was rushed to hospital, where he was declared dead.
“Preliminary reports suggest that Suraj was attacked by Raju… By the time the guard reached, he was almost dead. It’s a clear case of custodial death which will be probed by a judicial magistrate,” he said.
All the policemen posted at Kotkhai police station, including the SHO, have been shifted out. The government has also shifted IGP (South) Zahur Zaidi, Shimla Superintendent of Police D W Negi and Additional SP Bhajan Negi.
The rape and murder of the 16-year-old girl, a Class X student of the Government Senior Secondary School in Mahasu, had sparked protests in the area, prompting the state home department to hand over the case to the CBI. According to the police, the incident happened on July 4 when the victim was returning from school. Her body was found two days later, in the Halaila forest of Mahasu. The postmortem report confirmed rape and death by strangulation, and revealed that she had deep injuries all over her face and body.
On July 13, police announced the arrest of Ashish Chauhan, 29, of Shaaral village in Kotkhai, the son of a prominent orchard owner. Later, the same day, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) confirmed the arrest of five others, including Raju, a resident of Mandi who lived in Halaila village in Kotkhai and worked as a manager-cum-driver at an apple orchard.
According to the police, Raju had offered a lift to the victim. Four other accused — Subash Singh Bisht, 42, Deepu, 38, (both from Uttarakhand), Suraj Singh, 29, and Lokjan, 19, (both from Nepal) — were also in the vehicle. The four are farm labourers, said the police.
The accused were on police remand and were scheduled to be presented before the court on Thursday.
The Himachal Pradesh High Court on Wednesday ordered a CBI probe into the minor girl’s rape and murder as well as the death of the accused. It asked the CBI to set up a special investigation team, headed by an officer of the rank of SP or above.
Himachal Governor Acharya Devvrat also sought a detailed report from the state government on both the cases.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh assured justice to the family of the minor girl. “To play politics over the death of a minor girl is shameful, as her soul won’t be able to rest in peace. I am sincerely committed to bringing the criminals to book and want them to be hanged for the heinous crime they have committed,” he said.
“The state government has formed a Special Investigation Team… I personally wrote to the Prime Minister to get the CBI to investigate this case,” he said.