'Pained, Threatened': Kathua Victim's Family on Convicted Policemen's Early Release

Two of the policemen convicted for destruction of evidence in the rape and murder case have been granted bail before the end of their five-year sentences.

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Srinagar: After the remaining sentence of one of the convicted police officers in the brutal gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from Kathua in January 2018 was recently suspended by the Punjab and Haryana high court, her family has expressed concerns over police officers being released before serving their full jail sentence.

Anand Dutta, a sub-inspector, was convicted for destruction of evidence in the case and subsequently dismissed from service. Dutta was the station house officer of the police station at the time of the incident. He was sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment. Last month, however, Dutta’s remaining sentence was suspended and his release ordered on furnishing personal and security bonds. Dutta’s counsel argued before the court that the allegations levelled by the prosecution were not corroborated by any material particulars.

Earlier, on December 16, 2021, the sentence of head constable Tilak Raj, another convicted policeman in the case, was also suspended by the court. Three accused policemen, including Dutta and Raj, were found guilty of destruction of evidence and sentenced to five years in jail. The two policemen had served more than half of their sentences.

The special court in Pathankot court had sentenced the other three accused, Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar, to life imprisonment.

“Sedated…strangulated to death”

The mutilated body of the eight-year-old girl was found in the forest area close to the residence of the main accused, Sanji Ram, on January 17, 2018. Following protests and widespread outrage over the brutal rape and murder, the then Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP alliance government transferred the case to the Crime Branch in Jammu on the victim’s family’s request.

Two ministers in the then cabinet – Chander Parkash Ganga and Choudhary Lal Singh — had publicly joined family members and relatives of the accused in an infamous rally demanding a CBI inquiry.

The Crime Branch in its investigation said that the clothes of the minor victim were washed by the policemen before being sent to the forensic science lab in an attempt to create false evidence at the scene.

“The girl was kept under the influence of sedatives which were purchased locally from a shop and she was hidden in the temple in Rasana for few days before strangulating her to death in a brutal manner,” the Crime Branch chargesheet revealed. “The girl was repeatedly raped by the accused persons, while local police officials, who were investigating the case, destroyed the evidence,” the 15-page chargesheet said.

“In the course of investigation, it transpired that Ram was against the settlement of Bakherwals in Rassana, Kootah and Dhamyal area and always kept on motivating members of his community not to provide land for grazing or any other kind of assistance to them,” the chargesheet said.

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The Crime Branch had filed the charge sheet against eight people including a juvenile whose trial is yet to begin since his petition on determining his age is yet to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Following nationwide outrage over the brutal rape and murder of the minor girl inside a temple, the Supreme Court in 2018 directed the case to be shifted outside Jammu and Kashmir. The apex court had ordered the sessions court in Pathankot to hear the case on a daily basis.

In his 432-page judgment, Tejwinder Singh, the district and sessions judge of Pathankot, had termed the crime “devilish and monstrous”, adding that the crime was committed in the most “shameful, inhumane and barbaric manner”.

Family anguished, feels threatened

Mir*, who had adopted the minor from his sister when she was six months old, told The Wire that the three accused policemen were supposed to serve a five-year jail term and also pay a Rs 50,000 fine.

“It’s been only two years and they have been released before serving their five year sentence. We have always demanded all the convicted to be hanged,” said Yousuf, adding that they’re hearing there will be a CBI inquiry after March.

“These people (convicted policemen) are out now and we feel threatened again as they can do anything to us. The family is sad and disappointed as they are out of jail and we feel threatened again,” said Mir.

Mir said they wanted the convicted policemen to at least serve the full five-year jail sentence. “If the accused policemen have been released within two years before their full jail sentence, the main accused responsible for the rape and murder of our child can also be released from jail,” he said.

“We don’t understand how the convicted policemen are out in two years instead of serving a five year jail sentence given by the court earlier,” said another relative of the victim.

Family appeal pending

Advocate Mubeen Farooqi, who represented the victim’s family in the Punjab and Haryana high court, said the convicted policemen were found involved in the criminal conspiracy and they were also aware of the ghastly crime before the rape and murder, according to the Crime Branch chargesheet.

“We had a pending appeal demanding capital punishment from the family’s side which was submitted in the Punjab and Haryana high court. But before our appeal for capital punishment could be heard, the convicted policemen have been released after their bail application was entertained by the court first,” advocate Farooqi told The Wire.

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“Had the family appeal been heard by the honourable court before the bail application of the convicted was entertained, there was a possibility of their jail term being extended instead of them getting released on bail like this,” Farooqi added.

Soon after the convicted policeman was granted bail by the court in Punjab, the then chief minister of the former state Mehbooba Mufti in a tweet said that the wheels of justice have “completely collapsed”.

“Perturbed that the policeman convicted for destroying evidence in Kathua rape case was granted bail & his jail term suspended. When a child raped & bludgeoned to death is deprived of justice, it becomes obvious that the wheels of justice have completely collapsed,” Mehbooba said in a tweet.