Following protests by a group of lawyers, the submission of the chargesheet in the rape-murder case of an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl in Kathua was delayed by several hours on Monday. The chief judicial magistrate was finally able to accept the chargesheet against seven of the eight accused around 9.30 pm.
Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Crime Branch officials had taken all the accused to the court in Kathua on Tuesday. At 4.25 pm, five minutes before the court was to close, the officials and Chief Prosecuting Officer Vikrant Sharma entered the retiring room of CJM Amarjit Singh Langeh, leaving the accused outside.
As word spread, lawyers, in large numbers, entered the retiring room of the CJM and raised slogans against the Crime Branch. The judge, Crime Branch officials and Chief Prosecuting Officer went to the court room, but the slogans did not stop. The protesting lawyers, led by president of Kathua Bar Association Kirti Bhushan Mahajan, asked the CJM to get the accused medically examined, while some of them accused an official in the Crime Branch SIT of being a rapist.
The slogan-shouting continued for over an hour. The district administration rushed policemen to the premises, but they failed to produce the accused in court. Later in the evening, Crime Branch officials tried to present the chargesheet before the CJM at his residence. The lawyers assembled there as well, and shouted slogans. Following police intervention, the chargesheet was accepted around 9.30 pm, and the CJM issued an order sending the accused to judicial custody.
The accused in the case, which is being probed by the Crime Branch, include retired revenue official Sanji Ram, his son Vishal and a minor nephew, Rasana resident Parvesh Kumar, Special Police Officers Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar, and Assistant Sub Inspector Anand Dutta and Head Constable Tilak Raj. Dutta and Raj were arrested on charges of attempting to destroy evidence by washing the blood-stained clothes of the victim.
While Crime Branch officials remained tight-lipped on Monday’s events, Kathua Bar Association president Mahajan said they did not intend to interfere in the judicial process, but they were only pointing to certain lacuna in the chargesheet. For example, he said, the Crime Branch did not get the accused medically examined before bringing them to court. Moreover, their attempt to present the challan in a discreet manner after court hours raised doubts, he added. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah slammed the lawyers’ action. “Shame on them & their political masters. An 8 year old girl is raped & murdered and these so called lawyers do not want to see justice delivered,” he tweeted.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association has called a Jammu bandh on Wednesday to demand a CBI inquiry into the matter, deportation of Rohingya from Jammu and withdrawal of the minutes of a meeting of the Tribal Affairs Department imposing restrictions on eviction of nomads encroaching upon forests and state land.
Sources told The Indian Express that the Crime Branch had gone to file the chargesheet two days before the remand for judicial custody of the accused was to end. “We hope we can keep them (accused) in judicial custody for two more days,’’ an official said. “But there are different legal opinions about it. The game plan of the lawyers who were supporting the accused is clear — if there are no orders from the court, we will have to release the accused because their custody will be illegal, which will impact the case adversely.”