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Trial in Kathua case begins in Pathankot

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Seven accused produced in court  

Representational image

Pathankot (Punjab), May 31: The trial in the rape-and-murder case of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua began here today with seven of the eight accused being produced before the district and sessions judge after the Supreme Court shifted the hearing outside Jammu and Kashmir.

After hearing arguments and counter-arguments, the court asked the prosecution to submit translated copies of charge-sheet, statements and case diaries of the case from Urdu to English to everybody, including the defence lawyers, by June 04.

A thick security blanket was thrown over the four-storey court complex as the battery of 31 lawyers representing the defence and the three-member prosecution team, led by S S Basra from Gurdaspur, faced off against each other.

Also presenting their arguments was a four-member team, representing the family.

The seven accused in the case of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from a minority nomadic community in January were brought in a police bus to the Judicial Court Complex on the old Pathankot-Delhi highway around 10.40 am, and presented before District and Sessions Judge Tejwinder Singh about 50 minutes later.

The eighth accused in the case is a juvenile.

According to Pathankot Bar Association president Reshpaul Thakur, such a high profile case was being heard in the Pathankot court for the first time.

The trial in the case is being held according to provisions of the Ranbir Penal Code, which is applicable in Jammu and Kashmir.

The main complainant is the uncle of the child. He is also her biological father as he had given her to his brother for adoption.

The case was transferred by the Supreme Court from Jammu and Kashmir to Pathankot in Punjab for a fair trial following a plea by the victim’s family.

The Supreme Court had asked the district and sessions judge in Pathankot to personally undertake the trial proceedings and not assign it to other session judges, stating that it would monitor the progress of trial in the case and no other courts should entertain any other plea related to the matter.

While transferring the case from Kathua to Pathankot, about 30 km away, the apex court directed day-to-day in-camera trial in the case.

A petition on the juvenile’s case is pending before Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police has contested his age and submitted medical reports to back its claim.

The police has said the evidence on the juvenile and the others is the same and his trial should also be held in Pathankot.

A large number of policemen, including women personnel, were deployed within and outside the court complex. The main entrance of the complex was blocked for vehicles, including those belonging to the staffers, who were asked to park their vehicles in an adjacent complex.

CCTV vans were also deployed in the court premises to keep an eye on trouble-makers.

Policemen were seen in riot gear, some armed with guns and most of them carrying batons and shields.

Special security squads armed with mine detectors and sniffer dogs were doing the rounds to sanitise the complex, where the police set up barricades outside the main door.

“All necessary arrangements are in place to ensure smooth trial in the case,” a senior police officer supervising the security arrangements in and outside the court said.

The Crime Branch had submitted a charge-sheet in the case on April 09 before the Kathua court.

The case came into the limelight after lawyers of the Kathua bar association tried to prevent the police from submitting the documents.

According to the 15-page charge-sheet, the eight-year-old girl, who was kidnapped on January 10 this year, was allegedly raped in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district. She was kept sedated for four days before being bludgeoned to death.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a carefully planned strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, it said.

It named eight persons, including temple custodian and alleged mastermind Sanji Ram, his son Vishal, special police officers Deepak Khajuria alias ‘Deepu’ and Surender Verma, and a juvenile.

The others arrested in the case are the juvenile’s friend Parvesh Kumar alias Mannu as well as Head Constable Tilak Raj and Sub-Inspector Anand Dutta.

The case became a bone of contention between the State government’s alliance partners PDP and BJP. The saffron party had to sack two of its ministers- Chowdhury Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga- for participating in a rally of the ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’ in support of the accused.

Meerut university official moves anticipatory bail application

Pathankot (Punjab), May 31 : The head of a Meerut college who is alleged to have  taken money from the main accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua today moved an anticipatory bail application before the district and sessions judge here.

The judge admitted R P Singh’s plea and posted the matter to June 04, said a lawyer, who requested anonymity.

The application coincided with the beginning of the trial in the case in the court.

Singh, who is also mentioned in the charge-sheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Crime Branch, is accused of taking money to mislead investigating officers about the presence of Vishal Jangotra, the son of Sanji Ram.

Sanji Ram is alleged to be the brain behind the abduction and murder of the nomadic girl in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir in January this year.

Crime Branch officials said they would soon submit a supplementary charge-sheet before the court to highlight how Vishal, with the help of university officials, attempted to create an alibi — that he was in Meerut from January 10 to 17 and appeared for an exam on January 15.

The Crime Branch maintains that Jangotra was present in Kathua and allegedly raped the little girl before leaving on January 14.

The prosecution has also moved an application requesting that the judicial custody of the seven accused in the case be shifted from Kathua to Pathankot, citing security reasons in transferring them from one town to the other.

The defence lawyers, however, objected to the move. After this, the judge issued notice to the Punjab government and the defence lawyers about the Crime Branch request, asking them to respond by Monday, the lawyer said.

Defence lawyer A K Sawhney told reporters outside the court complex after the day’s proceedings that a group of lawyers claiming to represent the family had come without government notification.

“We objected to the appearance of some lawyers who came without notification from the government and attempted to appear in court. They can’t appear until it is either decided by the court or they carry the notification of the government,” he said.

“Since the proceedings are in-camera, we are not able to say much more with regard to the proceedings. The trial has started and will be held daily. Tomorrow, the proceedings will start at 1200 hours,” Sawhney said.

Minor or not? Decision on Kathua juvenile next week

Jammu, May 31: The fate of the juvenile accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua will be decided next week by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court with the Crime Branch moving a petition to contest that he is a minor, officials said today.

A decision on the petition, which will be heard early next week, will give clarity on whether his case will be heard along with the seven other accused before the Pathankot district and sessions judge or continue to be tried by the Juvenile Board in Kathua.

“The police has conducted a thorough probe and also carried out medical tests on the accused. The reports suggest his age to be in the 19-23 age bracket,” said a senior official of the State Law department.

He said all the evidence collected in the case was the same for all the accused.

“We cannot make a witness depose twice — once in Pathankot and the second time before the Juvenile Board. The clarity is important,” the official said.

In its nine-page order, the bench had said, “The juvenile, who is facing the trial, shall be dealt with in accordance with law and he should be given all special care and protection as per the command of the law.”

The juvenile had allegedly kidnapped the girl on January 10 on directions of his uncle Sanji Ram, who is the brain behind her abduction and killing.

The minor along with Vishal, son of Sanji Ram, and special police officer Deepak Khajuria, alias ‘Deepu’, had raped her repeatedly for four days before killing her on January 14 and dumping her body in the jungle, the charge-sheet said.

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