Lawyers protesting against filing of chargesheet in the Kathua rape and murder case. (Photo: Agencies)
Srinagar: The crime branch of Jammu and Kashmir Police on Monday filed a charge sheet against seven accused in rape-and-murder case of a nomad girl in Kathua district in spite of resistance by a group of Jammu lawyers.
The victim went missing while grazing horses in Rasana village of Hiranagar tehsil of Kathua on January 17. A week later, her body was found in woods near her village. The alleged rape and murder of the minor evoked widespread outrage in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, the incident took a strange turn later when large number of people of Kathua took to the streets, waving the national flag and demanding unconditional release of the main accused Deepak Khajuria who is a Special Police Officer (SPO). The photographs of the protest march went viral on social media and Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, shocked over the "abuse" of the national flag hit out at the protesters and reiterated that the law will take its own course.
However, in huge embarrassment to the Chief Minister, two of her senior ministers from ally BJP also joined the protesters to seek investigations into the rape-and-murder case instead of the Crime Branch of the J&K police by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the plea the local people had expressed lack of faith in police investigation. But the Chief Minister out rightly rejected the demand.
Earlier on Monday, a section of Jammu lawyers had prevented the police from filing charge sheet against the accused, evoking sharp criticism of various quarters. Former Chief Minister and opposition National Conference (NC) working president, Omar Abdullah, tweeted, "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".
Separatist leader and Kashmir’s chief Muslim cleric Mirwaiz Omar Farooq wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter.com "What a shame! that some lawyers in Jammu prevent police from filing a charge sheet in the heinous crime of rape and murder of an 8 year old girl child! How low can one stoop to defend his prejudices and biases! What’s worse is that they are supposed to represent law and justice!"
Inspector General of Police (Crime Branch) Afhadul Mujtaba said that the charge sheet was filed against the accused despite resistance shown by some Jammu lawyers who blocked the way of police officials while on way to the court on Monday. "We’ve filed charge sheet against seven accused persons and charge sheet against a juvenile person will be filed separately," he said adding "There was some resistance and that has been tackled". The witnesses said that at the time of filing of the charge sheet, some lawyers protested, leading to "law and order’ situation. However, police reinforcements had to be called to the spot to tackle the situation.
Jammu High Court Bar Association (JHCBA), the main organization of Jammu lawyers, is on strike since Thursday in support of various demands including handing over the Kathua rape-cum-murder case to CBI and eviction of Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees from Jammu as it considers them a "security threat". A group of people in Kathua including the woman relatives of the accused are currently on ‘fast-unto-death’ in support of the demand that the case be handed over to the CBI. The BJP, which is sharing power with the PDP in the State, had on Sunday said it supports the issues like deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi immigrants raised by the JHCBA but will not like to support them for the Kathua rape-cum-murder issue since it was sub-judice.
The charge sheet has been filed few days after DNA test confirmed that the victim was held captive inside a temple before being strangulated after rape. Among the accused is a former revenue official and the alleged conspirator Sanji Ram (60) who surrendered before the Crime Branch on March 20 after his son Vishal was taken into custody by the police in Uttar Pradesh. The Crime Branch officials said that they had received the forensic test reports which confirmed that the girl was held hostage at a temple premises, drugged and raped several times before being murdered by a SPO Khajuria.
The police have arrested eight persons, including two SPOs and a head-constable, in connection with the case. The head-constable was charged with destruction of evidence.