A court sentenced three men including a temple caretaker to life imprisonment till last breath for the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in Kathua shortly after convicting them along with three others for the ghastly crime that shook the nation 17 months ago.
The other three accused–Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj and Special Police Officer Surender Verma — were convicted for destruction of evidence to cover up and handed down five years in jail and Rs 50,000 fine each. The court acquitted the seventh accused Vishal Jangotra, son of Sanji Ram, giving him the ‘benefit of doubt’.
Following is the time line of the case that shook the nation:
January 10, 2018: Eight-year-old girl belonging to Bakarwal tribe goes missing in Rasana village of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district while grazing cattle.
January 12, 2018: FIR is registered on the complaint of victim’s father at Hiranagar police station.
January 17, 2018: Body of the girl is found. Post mortem confirms gang rape and murder.
January 22, 2018: Case is handed over to Jammu and Kashmir crime branch.
February 16, 2018: A right-wing group, Hindu Ekta Manch, holds protests in support of one of the accused.
March 1, 2018: Two ministers of the BJP, part of the state’s ruling coalition with the PDP, Chander Prakash Ganga and Lal Singh, attend a rally organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch after the arrest of nephew of a caretaker of a ‘devisathan’ (temple) in connection with the kidnapping and rape.
April 9, 2018: The police file the chargesheet before the Kathua court against against seven of the eight accused.
April 10, 2018: Charge sheet filed against eighth accused who had claimed to be a juvenile. The police file an FIR against lawyers for protesting and attempting to prevent the crime branch officials from filing the charge sheet in the court on April 9.
April 14, 2018: BJP ministers who attended the Hindu Ekta Manch rally resign from the state Cabinet. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres terms the crime “horrific” and asks authorities to deliver justice.
April 16, 2018: Trial begins before the Principal Sessions Court judge, Kathua. All accused plead ‘not guilty’.
May 7, 2018: The Supreme Court shifts the case from Kathua to Pathankot in Punjab. The apex court directs the trial to be fast-tracked and held in-camera, away from media gaze.
June 3, 2019: Trial concludes.
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.
Singh started his order with the couplet from Ghalib’s ghazal—“Pinha tha daam-e-sakht qareeb ashiyaan ke, udhne hi nahi paye the ki girftar hum hue”.
In his judgment after hearing arguments from both sides for 367 days, Singh sentenced three accused to life imprisonment for criminal conspiracy and murder and three more to five years in jail for destruction of evidence. One accused was acquitted.
Also cited by the Supreme Court in a 2011 case of murder of a sex worker in West Bengal, the couplet poignantly summed up the Kathua case which shook the conscience of the nation.
The court pronounced the much-awaited verdict away from the gaze of media which gathered in full strength outside the premises. All the 7 accused were present in the court room.
According to eyewitness accounts from inside the courtroom, where the media was barred, Ram and Khajuria reacted with shock when the operative part of the verdict was read out by the judge. Some family members of the two men collapsed in the court complex on hearing the news of them being sent to jail for life.
The Crime Branch of J&K Police had filed the charge sheet against eight persons, including a juvenile.
The trial against the juvenile is yet to begin as his petition on determining his age is to be heard by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.