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‘Mastermind’ surrenders

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Kathua rape-and-murder case…

Jammu, Mar 20: A former Revenue official, wanted by the police in connection with the rape and killing of a minor girl in Kathua district, today surrendered before the Crime Branch here, a senior police official said.

Sanji Ram (60), believed to be the mastermind behind the rape and killing of the 8-year-old Bakharwal girl Asifa Banu in January, surrendered after his son Vishal was arrested from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, the official said requesting anonymity.

Sanji Ram is believed to have engineered the rape-and-murder of Asifa Bano to allegedly create fear among Muslim nomadic families living in the Jammu's Rasana village and drive them out of the area. After his name cropped up during the investigation, Ram went into hiding.

A senior police official had also went on record saying that investigation has revealed that it was a pre-planned killing carried out with the intention of instilling fear among the Bakharwal nomads residing in the area and driving them out.

He had said the girl was drugged and raped before being killed.

The minor's body was recovered from Rasana forest in Kathua on January 17, a week after she went missing while grazing horses in the area. The incident sparked widespread protests in the state.

On January 23, the State government handed over the case to the police's Crime Branch which formed a special investigating team (SIT) and arrested six people, including some policemen, who were charged with destruction of evidence.

Investigators said that Ram allegedly motivated SPO Deepak Khajuria, the main accused in the case, to execute the heinous crime.

So far the Crime Branch has arrested a Sub-Inspector, Head Constable, two SPOs including the main accused, among seven people in the case.

One of the arrested persons, who was said to be a juvenile, was subjected to medical examination at the Government Medical College here on March 07 which established that he was over 19-years-old.

The Crime Branch submitted a detailed status report to the High Court on March 09 which is monitoring the case.

The case has divided the ruling coalition partners, PDP and BJP, when a recently formed group Hindu Ekta Manch rallied in support of the accused and led an agitation for the transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

On March 08, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti rejected the demand of BJP for a CBI investigation into the case saying 95 percent of the probe has been completed.

Several organisations, including the Bar Association and the Hindu Ekta Manch, had staged a sit-in in Kathua town on March 03 demanding a CBI inquiry into the case.

On February 27, residents of Rasana village migrated to Hiranagar as a protest and blocked a road as a protest against the PDP-BJP government alleging harassment and mass detentions by the Crime Branch. Two BJP ministers - Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga - visited the protesters and supported their demand for a CBI probe.

On March 04, senior BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh assured a fair probe in the case.

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