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Kathua rape-murder case under scanner as Jammu court orders FIR against SIT members

The Kathua rape-and-murder case of an eight-year-old Gujjar Bakarwal girl had made national headlines, causing a massive uproar in the country. The public outcry over the case had led to an in-camera trial in Punjab's Pathankot, outside J&K.

Kathua rape-murder case under scanner as Jammu court orders FIR against SIT members
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JAMMU: A Jammu court's order to register an FIR against the six members of the Special Investigation team (SIT) in the Kathua rape-and-murder case has raised question marks over the authencity of the probe done by them so far in the sensitive case. The order to file an FIR against the SIT team comes on a petition filed by three youngsters who claim they were torutured to depose against Vishal Jangotra, the boy who was later acquitted in the henious crime. 

It may be recalled that the Kathua rape-and-murder case of an eight-year-old Gujjar Bakarwal girl had made national headlines, causing a massive uproar in the country. The public outcry over the case had led to an in-camera trial in Punjab's Pathankot, outside J&K.

In its order dated October 22, the Court of the Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Prem Sagar, allowed that an FIR be registered against six police officers who have been identified as RK Jalla (Former SSP Crime Branch, Jammu), Peerzada Naveed (Additional Superintendent of Police Crime Branch, Jammu), Shwetambari Sharma (Deputy SP Crime Branch, Jammu), Nassir Hussain (Deputy SP Crime Branch Jammu) Urfan Wani (sub-inspector crime branch Jammu) and Kewal Kishore (crime branch).

The court order said, "the applicants were coerced/tortured/forced by applicants (SIT) to give false evidence against accused Vishal Jangotra" seeking the registration of FIR. In the two-page order, the court directed SSP Jammu to file an FIR and report compliance by the next date of hearing on November 7.

The court order mentions that the applicants in the case had filed a complaint before the SHO of Pacca Danga Police Station in Jammu on September 24 2019 seeking registration of an FIR under section 194 of the IPC (giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence) and other relevant provisions of the law against the members of the SIT.

The applicants argued that the grounds of registration of FIR were how Sachin Sharma and Neeraj Sharma from Kathua district and Sahil Sharma from adjacent Samba district were “forced/tortured/coerced by all the members of the SIT to depose and create false evidence against accused Vishal Jangotra”.

Vishal Jangotra, the son of chief conspirator Sanji Ram serving a 25-year jail term in the case, was acquitted. Sanji Ram was convicted and sentenced along with five other conspirators on June 10, 2019, by a special court in Punjab's Pathankot. 

Out of the six convicted, Ram and two others were awarded life term while three were sentenced to a jail term of five years. 

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Vishal Jangotra, who was also made an accused in the case by the police, was let off by the court which relied on a Zee News report that showed him being present in a place several hundred kilometres away from the crime scene.

Zee News had accessed CCTV footage of an ATM in Uttar Pradesh's Muzzafarnagar in which Vishal was seen withdrawing money on the day when the incident took place in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir.

After his release, Vishal had said in an interview to Zee News that he was ruthlessly tortured by the police to own up to an offence he did not commit. Vishal also claimed that he and his friends were tortured by the police with the sole intention of destroying his family.

The court had said in its verdict that the evidence broadly supports the news clip of Zee News relating to the presence of accused Vishal Jangotra alias Shamma at Meeranpur, Muzaffarnagar during the period of occurrence. The court had also appreciated Zee News, particularly the Editor-in-Chief of Zee News Sudhir Chaudhary and staff for trying bringing out the actual truth in this case.

The Jammu and Kashmir police had said in its chargesheet that the victim was abducted on January 10, 2018, and held captive at a temple in a village in Kathua. The chargesheet also mentioned that the girl was kept unconscious by her abductors for four days, during which she was raped and was ultimately murdered. 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.

However, the court acquittal of Vishal Jangotra was later challenged by the Jammu and Kashmir and the deceased girl's parents.

It had also come to light that during the trial, the Pathankot court had sought information from the Jammu court if all witnesses, who had given a statement under Section 164 before it, were under duress or not.

The Jammu court had then given a clean chit to the J&K Police. While the same set of witnesses led to the conviction of six of the seven defendants, only Jangotra was acquitted. 

Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the temple where the crime took place, Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian, were convicted under Ranbir Penal Code sections pertaining to criminal conspiracy, murder, gangrape and destruction of evidence.

Two police officials - Sub Inspector Anand Dutta and Head Constable Tilak Raj - and a special police officer Surender Verma were convicted for destruction of evidence.