A special court in Pathankot on Monday awarded life imprisonment to three of the six persons convicted in the rape-and-murder case of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua last year. The remaining three, all of them police officers, were sentenced to five years in jail for destruction of evidence. The court acquitted Vishal Jangotra, son of mastermind Sanji Ram, giving him the ‘benefit of doubt’, according to Mubeen Farooqi, who represented the victim’s family in the court.
Announcing the quantum of punishment, the court sentenced the three main accused — Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the devsthanam (temple) where the crime took place, Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria, and Parvesh Kumar — to life imprisonment and also imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh each. The three were also handed different jail terms for various offences under the Ranbir Penal Code. The jail terms will run concurrently with the life term, prosecution lawyer Santokh Singh said.
The remaining three accused — Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surender Verma — were charged with destruction of evidence and awarded five years jail besides a fine of Rs 50,000 each. If they do not deposit the fine, they will have to serve an additional six months in jail, Singh said.
The prosecution team, comprising lawyers J K Chopra, S S Basra, Harminder Singh and Bhupinder Singh, said it had demanded capital punishment for the main accused and may appeal against the sole acquittal.
“We have sought capital punishment against all three accused convicted of murder and gang rape. It was hard work of all of us and a perfect blend of investigation and legal brains. We have achieved 99 per cent result,” the statement said.
The families of the accused alleged that the verdict was a result of media trial. “The media made a case against us. We are a victim of the media,” a relative of one of the accused said. One of the defence lawyers claimed that they will now challenge the verdict in a higher court.
The crime branch of J&K Police had filed the chargesheet against eight persons, including a juvenile. The trial against the juvenile is yet to begin as his petition on determining his age is to be heard by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
According to the 15-page chargesheet, the minor girl, who was kidnapped on January 10 last year, was allegedly raped in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district after having been kept sedated for four days before she was bludgeoned to death. Sanji Ram, considered the main accused, hatched the conspiracy along with others, as part of a strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area.
The case was shifted from Jammu and Kashmir to Pathankot following a Supreme Court order after lawyers in Kathua prevented Crime Branch officials from filing a chargesheet in the case.
(With inputs from ENS, agencies)