A district and sessions court in Pathankot convicted six of the seven adults accused in the case of rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua on Monday.
Among the convicted are village head Sanji Ram, two special police officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma and Head constable Tilak Raj, ANI reported.
PTI reported that the main accused Ram, Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar were sentenced to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, SI Anand Dutta, Raj and special police officer Verma were sentenced to five years for destruction of evidence.
Charges of rape and murder had been framed by the district and sessions judge against seven out of the eight accused. The trial against the juvenile accused in the case is yet to begin as his petition on determining his age is to be heard by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The juvenile is Sanji Ram’s nephew.
PDP chief Mehooba Mufti and National Conference chief Omar Abdullah welcomed the court’s judgement on Monday.
The in-camera trial in the case that shook the nation ended on June 3, when district and sessions judge Tejwinder Singh had announced that the verdict was likely to be delivered on June 10.
Elaborate security arrangements were made in and around the court and in Kathua in view of the pronouncement of the judgement, officials said Sunday.
The situation will be monitored closely, they said.
According to the 15-page charge sheet, the eight-year-old girl, kidnapped on 10 January 2018, was allegedly raped in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district after having been kept sedated for four days before she was bludgeoned to death.
The day-to-day trial commenced in the first week of June last year at the district and sessions court in Pathankot in neighbouring state of Punjab, about 100 km from Jammu and 30 km from Kathua, after the Supreme Court ordered that the case be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir.
The apex court order came after lawyers in Kathua prevented Crime Branch officials from filing a charge sheet in the sensational case, which shocked the nation.
The prosecution team in the case comprised J K Chopra, S S Basra and Harminder Singh.
The Crime Branch arrested village head Sanji Ram, his son Vishal, juvenile nephew and his friend Anand Dutta, and two special police officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma. Head constable Tilak Raj and sub-inspector Anand Dutta, who allegedly took Rs 4 lakh from Sanji Ram and destroyed crucial evidence, were also arrested.
The court framed charges under the Ranbir Penal Code(RPC), including Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 376-D (gang-rape), according to the prosecution.
The accused, if convicted, face minimum life imprisonment and maximum death penalty.
The court also framed charges of destruction of evidence and causing hurt by poisoning under Section 328 of the RPC. The two policemen - Raj and Datta - were also charged under Section 161 (public servant taking illegal gratification) of the RPC.
All the accused, barring the juvenile, were shifted to Gurdaspur jail following an intervention by the Supreme Court which also restricted appearance of the defence lawyers and limited it to one or maximum of two per accused.
The charge sheet said the girl had gone missing while grazing horses. Investigators said the accused juvenile had abducted the girl under the pretext of helping her find her horses.
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.
The case had become a bone of contention between the then ruling alliance partners PDP and the BJP after two ministers of the saffron party, Chowdhury Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, participated in a rally organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch in support of the accused arrested by the state crime branch.
(With PTI inputs)