Kathua: Seeking justice for over four years, the family of the eight-year-old Kathua rape-murder victim is eagerly waiting for the start of the trial against Shubam Sangra, who will be treated as an adult following a Supreme Court order. The lawyer for the victim’s family, Mubeen Farooqi, told PTI from Malerkotla in Punjab that the trial should take place in Punjab as was done for the other accused and not anywhere else. If needed, they will approach the Supreme Court again to get clarity on this issue, he said. “We can’t have two appellate courts for the same case,” the lawyer said.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday held Sangra, a key accused in the sensational gangrape and murder of the girl from a nomadic community in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018, was not a minor at the time of the offence and ordered his trial as an adult. The top court also observed that a casual or cavalier approach by courts in such cases cannot be permitted.
A bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and J B Pardiwala said though there was a “clear and unambiguous case in favour of the accused person’s juvenility on the basis of his birth certificate and school records, he cannot take shelter under such documents when a heinous crime has been committed”. It also chastised the CJM and the high court over their “casual and cavalier” approach while deciding the accused was a juvenile when the crime was committed.
The minor girl was kidnapped on January 10, 2018 and was raped in captivity in a small village temple after being kept sedated for four days. She was later bludgeoned to death. Mr Farooqi cited the 2018 order of the Supreme Court under which the trial of the case was transferred to Pathankot in Punjab and a day-to-day hearing was ordered after some lawyers in Kathua had prevented the Crime Branch officials from filing a charge sheet.
“Now this is clear that the trial of the case has to be held in Pathankot only and if need be, we will approach the Supreme Court again to get clarity on this issue,” he said. The three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by the then chief justice Dipak Misra had ordered shifting of the trial from Kathua and also made it clear that the District and Sessions Judge of Pathankot shall himself take up the trial and not assign it to any additional judge.
Besides ordering daily in-camera hearings, the bench, which also comprised Justice D Y Chandrachud, who is now the Chief Justice of India, and Justice Indu Malhotra, had made it clear that “as this court (Supreme Court) is monitoring the matter, no court shall entertain any petition pertaining to the case”.
“Though the top court in 2018 gave all protection to Sangra, who was treated as a juvenile at that time, things have changed after Wednesday’s order. Hence, the trial should start at Pathankot only,” Mr Farooqi said. Mohammed Yusuf, who had adopted the girl, was also hopeful that the trial in the case would begin as soon as possible.
The special court had on June 10, 2019 sentenced three men to life imprisonment till their last breath for the ghastly crime that shook the nation. Sanji Ram, the mastermind and caretaker of the ‘devasthanam’ (temple), where the crime took place in January 2018; Deepak Khajuria, a Special Police Officer, and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian – the three main accused – were spared the death penalty, a punishment sought by the prosecution during the year-long in-camera trial.
The three were convicted under Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) sections relating to criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping, gang rape, destruction of evidence, drugging the victim and common intention.
The other three accused – Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surender Verma – were convicted for the destruction of evidence to cover up the crime and handed down five years in jail and ₹ 50,000 fine each. All three are out on parole now. The trial court had acquitted the seventh accused Vishal Jangotra, son of Sanji Ram, giving him the benefit of doubt. The trial of Sangra is expected to cast a shadow on Jangotra’s discharge.
“There is a statement of Sangra pointing at his involvement and we are sure that the court will treat that statement as extracted from an adult and revisit the case,” a senior official associated with the case said.
Sangra is at present lodged in a juvenile home in Kathua under the custody of a Chief Judicial Magistrate. The crime branch of Jammu and Kashmir police will be serving the order of the Supreme Court soon after which the accused is likely to be shifted to normal jail in Jammu before a decision on where to conduct the trial is taken.