In the investigation report submitted before a Pathankot Sessions Court in May 2018, the Jammu and Kashmir Police Crime Branch had said the eight-year-old minor in Kathua was raped and murdered as part of a larger conspiracy hatched by Sanji Ram and his associates to “dislodge” the Bakerwal community — a Muslim nomadic tribe from the area. In court, as per the verdict, it was the own statements of the accused which “reflected and echoed” the said motive behind the crime.
The District and Sessions Judge Dr Tejwinder Singh Monday sentenced three main accused Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar to life for murder and to 25 years imprisonment under the charge of gangrape. Three former police officers, Anand Dutta, Surinder Kumar and Tilak Raj, were sentenced to five years imprisonment for destruction of crucial evidence.
An eight-year-old girl was abducted, raped and murdered in January 2018 in Kathua village. The trial was shifted to Pathankot on orders of the Supreme Court after some cabinet ministers of the then PDP-BJP government in the state came out in open support of the accused while lawyers in Kathua attempted to prevent submission of the chargesheet in court.
“So far as the motive behind the occurrence is concerned, the same stands reflected and echoed in the statement… of accused Sanji Ram. Accused Sanji Ram in reply to the question… categorically deposed that the complainant and the major private witnesses belong to the Bakerwal community and during the winters these people come down hill and reside in their nearby areas,” the judgment read.
Further quoting Ram’s statement, the court said, “These people (belonging to the Bakerwal community) were in habit of disturbing and spoiling the crops of the local residents and these people were also in habit of encroaching upon the land. He used to object their act of disturbing and spoiling his crop with their animals and the complainant and his associates used to threaten him.”
The court observed that the conflict between “Bakerwal community and the local residents” is also reflected in the statement of Vishal Jangotra, an accused who was acquitted. Vishal had submitted that said his father Sanji Ram used to oppose the acts of Bakerwals as he “used to work hard on their land for betterment of crops”. The court said, “This again is an incriminating evidence against the main accused… regarding their criminal conspiracy to commit various offences against the victim girl Miss ‘A’ for having a strong motive do so.”
However, the statements of the accused before the court is not the only evidence which led the trial court to conclude that the accused had a larger motive behind the crime. One prosecution witness, number 110, told the court that he had 150 animals and had purchased “leaves from the trees grown in certain area” in December 2017. He added when he went to inspect the leaves grown on the trees in Nathani side, located near Rasana, Sanji Ram met him there and objected to his visit to that area.
“Similarly, after sometime accused Deepak Khajuria alias Deepu met him there. Khajuria abused him and questioned his visit to the area and threatened them not to visit the area again. He further testified that Sanji Ram and Khajuria, both accused present in the court today, had called him near the gas agency situated on the road and threatened him from purchasing leaves from that area. They also had threatened him from visiting this area frequently and also told him not to visit that area again,” the judgment read, while calling it “incriminating evidence” against the accused.
In the chargesheet, the police had said Sanji Ram was “against the settlement of Bakarwals in Rasana, Kootah and Dhamyal area, and always kept on motivating the members of his community of the area to not provide land for grazing or any other kind of assistance”.
“This apart during investigation it transpired that a particular community had a general impression that the Bakerwals indulge in cow slaughter and drug trafficking and that their children were turning into drug addicts,” the police had concluded in its investigation.
The court, while convicting the main accused Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar under 376D of RPC, said they “under a criminal conspiracy facilitated commission of gang rape on an eight years old minor girl/victim (Miss ‘A’) through co-accused (juvenile)”.