The family of an 8-year-old girl, who was gangraped and murdered in J&K’s Kathua district last year, on Wednesday approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking death penalty for three of the main convicts and also challenging the acquittal of one accused.
A leave to appeal has also been filed seeking, under the additional charge of conspiracy, enhancement of the five-year sentences given to three former police officers — charged with destruction of evidence — to life terms.
“In this case, there is a disturbing indication of political and communal tinge by granting protection to the perpetrators of crime, elected officials coming to the aide of the accused and lawyer after lawyer eager to represent the accused,” read the appeal filed by the victim’s father through advocate Rajvinder Singh Bains. “If this case is not in the category of rarest of the rare cases, which other case will go in this category,” it further said.
Three of the main convicts — Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar — were sentenced to life imprisonment in the case by a Pathankot court on June 10. Three former police officers — Sub-Inspector Anand Dutta, SPO Surinder Kumar and Head Constable Tilak Raj — were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for destruction of evidence. While Vishal Jangotra was the only accused to be acquitted in the case, trial against the main accused, a juvenile, is yet to begin as a petition pertaining to conflicting claims over his age is pending in court.
The J&K government is yet to decide whether to appeal against the acquittal of Jangotra.
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the J&K Police Crime Branch had in its investigation concluded that the 8-year-old girl belonging to the Bakerwal community in Kathua’s Rasana village was murdered and raped in January 2018 as part of a conspiracy to “dislodge” the nomadic community from the village. The accused have already appealed against their conviction and the case is now listed for hearing on July 18.
The appeal filed by the complainant states though the trial court has taken into consideration that a “barbaric crime” was committed by the accused, it has been “incapable of delivering the justice…deserved by the committers of such a monstrous crime of gangrape on a helpless and defenseless 8-year-old child followed by cold-blooded murder”. It adds that the trial court failed to take into consideration the gravity of the offence and age of the victim while sentencing the accused to life term.
On the conviction of three police officers under the lone charge of destruction of evidence, the appeal, while seeking their conviction under the charge of conspiracy, states that the trial court failed to appreciate that they were a part of the conspiracy in wrongful confinement and murder of the victim. “The court failed to consider that if the accused/respondent were not hand-in-glove with the main accused, there would be no reason to destroy the evidence and receive illegal gratification from the main accused and…no reason to save the skin of the main accused,” read the appeal, adding that destruction of evidence is a grievous offence.
On the acquittal of Jangotra, whose alibi that he was in Meerut at the time the crime was committed was accepted by the trial court, the appeal stated that five trains run between Meerut and Kathua and the distance between the two towns is merely 480 km, which can be covered in around 9-11 hours. “The plea of alibi set up by the accused Vishal Jangotra through his sister, ATM and other evidence of having participated in examination do not meet the test of impossibility to be at the place of occurrence,” the appeal said.
The plea filed by the family has also questioned the state’s “reluctance to file an appeal against Jangotra’s acquittal” and “light sentences” given to other convicts “will give a disturbing signal to other criminals and therefore puts onus on the court to invoke its revisional power to hand over sentences commensurate with the enormity of the crime.”