After massive public protests at Theog – a gateway town to Kotkhai and half a dozen other towns of Shimla’s apple-belt – against the SIT probe outcome in the rape and murder of a Class X school girl, the Himachal Pradesh government Friday decided to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
On Thursday, six persons – five orchard labourers and the son of a prominent orchard owner – were arrested in connection with the crime. However, the victim’s family expressed doubts over the SIT probe and the simmering public anger resulted in Friday’s protests.
The announcement on Friday came amid a five-hour dharna. A section of the crowd allegedly gheraoed Shimla SP D W Negi at Theog police station. They pelted stones at the building and also damaged four police vehicles, including Negi’s official vehicle and one belonging to DySP (Theog) Manoj Joshi.
Chief Secretary V C Pharka conveyed the government’s decision to Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Theog Tashi Sandup over phone, which he later announced to the protesting crowd in the presence of Chopal MLA Balbir Verma, who also took part in the dharna.
Earlier, a large crowd, including several college students, lawyers and political activists among others, staged an agitation at Theog Bazar.
Shimla SP Negi, who had just reached the town, urged his men to exercise restraint. Minutes later, the police station building, located on the main road, was pelted with stones and police vehicles were also targeted.
“We are not satisfied with the SIT action and the arrests of a few poor workers. The real culprits, regardless of how influential they may be, should be arrested.
Since the family of the victim is not satisfied with the probe so far and believe the accused will not punished, the case must be handed over to the CBI. This has been done now. Nevertheless, we are not going to budge from here and this dharna will continue indefinitely,” said MLA Balbir Verma.
Traffic flow was majorly affected on the National Highway that connects Shimla, the state capital, to Kinnaur, a tribal district. Hundreds of tourists, Shimla-bound passengers and private vehicles were stuck for nearly five hours. Army vehicles and ambulances were exempted by the protesters. It was only after the Chief Secretary spoke to MLA Balbir Verma that the protest was called off.
Hundreds of people, including women, also took it to the streets at Kotkhai, Jubbal and Shimla, apart from other small towns, blocking traffic and raising slogans alleging a ‘cover-up’ in the case.
The family members of the victim and dozens of people from their native village were at the forefront of the protest, alleging that the culprits are from Halaila village – where her body was found on July 6, two days after she went missing.