Nation awaits justice in rape, murder of 8-year-old girl

The trial in the brutal gangrape and murder of an 8-year-old girl, who was allegedly sedated and sexually assaulted before being murdered in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, has begun today.

The girl disappeared on January 10 while grazing her horses in a meadow in Kathua, a city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

On the morning of 17 January, a neighbour of Muhammad Yusuf Pujwala informed him that they had found her body in bushes in the forest, a few hundred metres away from his house.

“I knew something horrible had happened to my girl,” BBC quoted 52-year-old Pujwala as saying. His wife, Naseema Bibi, sat beside him, faintly crying while repeatedly murmuring her daughter’s name.

When the girl went missing on 10 January, her family was living in a village around 72km east of Jammu city. On that afternoon, her mother recalls, the eight-year-old went to the forest to bring home the horses. The horses returned but she did not.

Naseema informed her husband. He and some neighbours started looking for her. Armed with flash lights, lanterns and axes, they went deep into the forest and searched through the night. But they could not find her.

Two days later, on 12 January, the family filed a police complaint. But, according to Pujwala, the police were not helpful. One of the police officers, he alleges, said the girl must have “eloped” with a boy.

As news of the crime spread, Gujjar staged protests and blocked a highway, forcing police to assign two officers for the search. One of those who was assigned, Deepak Khajuria, was himself arrested in connection with the crime. Five days later, her body was found.

“She had been tortured. Her legs were broken,” recalled Ms Naseema, who had rushed to the forest along with her husband to see the body. “Her nails had turned black and there were blue and red marks on her arm and fingers.”

The girl belonged to the Bakarwal, a group of nomadic Sunni Muslim shepherds who have started to settle permanently in some areas, angering the local Hindu population who already lived there.

A document released by the Jammu and Kashmir state police also confirms that the horrendous crime was the result of a religious and political conflict over land.

As per the police charge sheet, the girl’s attackers kidnapped her in order to drive her family out of Kathua. She was taken to a nearby Hindu temple where she was drugged, tortured and gang-raped before being strangled and beaten to death.

Police arrested eight men, including a retired government official, four police officers and a juvenile in connection with her death. However, the arrests sparked protests in Jammu – lawyers tried to stop police entering the court to file a charge sheet and two ministers from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attended a rally in support of the accused.

The trial against all the eight accused has begun. They include a juvenile against whom a separate charge sheet was filed, media reports said.

The chief judicial magistrate of Kathua will reportedly be committing one of the charge sheets, in which seven people have been named, to the sessions court for trial as mandated under the law. The chief judicial magistrate will, however, hold the trial for the juvenile as it is the designated court under the juvenile act, officials have said.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has appointed two special public prosecutors, both Sikhs, for the trial in the case, a move being seen as made to ensure “neutrality” in view of Hindu-Muslim polarisation over the case, reported PTI.

The Jammu Bar association as well as the Kathua Bar have received a rap on the kuckles by the Supreme Court on April 13 as the apex court took a strong note of some lawyers obstructing the judicial process in the case, the report said.

The Supreme Court initiated a case on its own record saying such impediment “affects the dispensation of justice and would amount to obstruction of access to justice”, it added.

Separately, a five-member committee of the Bar Council of India (BCI) will visit Kathua city in Jammu and Kashmir and submit a factual report on the case after seeking time from the Supreme Court on April 19. An announcement in this regard was made by BCI chief Manan Mishra on Sunday.

The fact-finding team will include former BCI chief Tarun Agarwal, BCI co-chairmen S Prabakaran and Ramachandra G Shah, and members Razia Beig of the Bar Council of Uttrakhand and Naresh Dikshit, an advocate, the report said.

The Jammu Bar association as well as the Kathua Bar have received a rap on the kuckles by the Supreme Court on April 13 as the apex court took a strong note of some lawyers obstructing the judicial process in the case, the report said.

In a related development, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has accepted the resignations of two controversial BJP ministers Chandra Prakash Ganga and Lal Singh who had participated in a rally in support of the people arrested in connection with the recent rape and murder of the girl.

The resignations of the two ministers were received from BJP state chief Sat Sharma this morning which were immediately accepted and forwarded to Governor NN Vohra for completing the procedural formalities, the J&K Chief Minister’s office was quoted as saying.

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