Mastermind, 2 more given life sentence; 3 others get 5-year jail.
Chandigarh/Srinagar: Delivering justice in the grisly Kathua gangrape and murder which shook the conscience of the nation, a court in Pathankot on Monday sentenced three convicts, including the mastermind, to life imprisonment for conspiracy and murder, and sent three more to five years in jail for destruction of evidence, observing that the perpetrators of the crime acted as if there is a “law of jungle” prevalent in society.
District and Sessions Judge Tejwinder Singh summed up the enormity of the crime with a touching couplet by Mirza Ghalib which says that hunters had placed the net near a nest and the young one was caught before it could take its first flight.
After hearing arguments from both sides for 367 days, Judge Singh started his judgment with the couplet from Ghalib’s ghazal — “Pinha tha daam-e-sakht qareeb ashiyaan ke, udhne hi nahi paye the ki girftar hum hue.”
The 400-page judgment said, “Perpetrators of the crime have acted in such a manner as if a law of the jungle prevailed. Heaven and hell are not geographical locations. Our thoughts, actions and character create a situation of heaven or hell for us. Needless to say the commission of this devilish and monstrous crime has sent shock waves across the society which means the guilty need to be brought under the sword of justice.”
Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the temple where the crime took place, SPO Deepak Khajuria and his accomplice Parvesh Kumar were convicted under sections pertaining to criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping, gangrape, destruction of evidence, drugging the 6 convicted in grisly Kathua rape-murder, only 1 is let off victim and common intention of the J&K’s Ranbir Penal Code.
They were sentenced to life imprisonment and fined Rs 1 lakh each for murder along with 25 years in jail for gang rape. Sub-inspector Anand Dutta, head constable Tilak Raj and SPO Surender Verma, convicted for destruction of evidence, were handed five years’ imprisonment.
The court acquitted a seventh suspect, who is the son of Sanji Ram. The eighth accused, a juvenile, is being tried in Kathua.
Relatives of Sanji Ram and special police officer Khajuria collapsed in the court complex as they heard the verdict. According to eyewitness accounts from inside the courtroom, where media was barred, Sanji Ram and Khajuria were visibly shaken after the judgment.
The name of the victim and her father found no mention in the judgment “for the sake of maintaining the honour of the family of the victim”. The girl was addressed as Miss ‘A’ while her father was mentioned as Mr ‘Y’.
The victim had gone missing while grazing horses in Rasana village of Hiranagar tehsil of Kathua on January 10, 2018. A week later, her body was found in woods near her village. The DNA and police investigations revealed that she was held inside a local temple where she was drugged, raped and killed.
The police arrested eight persons, including the custodian of the temple, his son and a special police officer (SPO) for their alleged involvement in the crime. A police sub-inspector, a head-constable and another special police officer (SPO) were arrested on charges of destroying evidence.
The crime branch of J&K police which investigated the case had said that the girl was targeted in order to terrorise Gujjars and other nomad Muslims into leaving Kathua.
The case made headlines when Hindu right-wing groups and lawyers protested over the arrest of the eight men. All of them had pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. However, the gory incident evoked widespread outrage in and outside J&K with various political, social and rights groups demanding exemplary punishment for the accused.
After the Supreme Court ordered that the case be shifted out of J&K, the day-to-day trial commenced in the first week of June last year.
The verdict was widely welcomed in J&K. Counsel for victim’s family Mubeen Farooqui said the judgment is a victory for all the communities — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.
“It’s Satyamev Jayate (truth alone triumphs). This victory belongs to all the communities, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians”.
However, he said he was not satisfied with the quantum of sentences. “We will appeal for capital punishment to the convicts,” he said.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti who was chief minister when the incident took place told this newspaper, “It is a matter of satisfaction. The crime branch team, the prosecution officers and the legal representatives of the victim’s family including a woman-all worked hard and in true professional way to ensure justice is delivered. Also, the entire country stood up to the truth.”
Later, she, in a statement, said, “The feeling of getting justice creates positivity and that is why the entire population of the state is hailing it. Justice and the unwavering commitment of the state to it are fundamental to peace and dignity. That alone inspire confidence among all sections especially the weakest among them and that is how the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution can be translated into reality.”
Another former chief minister and National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah while welcoming the court verdict said, “The guilty deserve the most severe punishment possible under law. And to those politicians who defended the accused, vilified the victim and threatened the legal system no words of condemnation are enough”.
However, the BJP termed the court verdict a “flawed judgement” and said it could be challenged in the higher court. “The verdict is flawed as the court has acquitted the ‘main accused’ while others have been convicted”, said party’s State spokesperson on J&K Affairs, Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo. He added that the BJP will accept the decision only if the Supreme Court gives the same verdict.
CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said, “Unfortunately, some fringe elements had tried to communalise this incident but due to intervention of judiciary, people of the state and the country they could not succeed”.
He added, “Civil society and saner voices, irrespective of affiliation and ideology across the country, raised voice against this brutal act and today’s verdict is the victory of truth”.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the heinous nature of the crime had made it a fit case for handing out capital punishment to the guilty. It hoped that the Pathankot court’s verdict would be further reviewed by higher courts.
The National Commission for Women also sought harshest punishment for the convicts. Its chairperson Rekha Sharma said, “I welcome the decision of the court and request them to give harshest punishment and hang them to set example for others because cases against minors are increasing and it would set an example.”