Three men convicted for gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua were today sentenced to life in jail. A Pathankot court, which had convicted six people a few hours earlier, sentenced three others to five years for destroying evidence to shield the rapists.
Sanji Ram, a retired revenue department official, Deepak Khajuria, a special police officer and Parvesh Kumar have been spared the death penalty that prosecutors had asked for and ruled that they would spend their life behind bars. Parvesh Kumar is the friend of the eighth accused named by Jammu and Kashmir’s Crime Branch for kidnapping the girl and her gang-rape.
Police officials Tilak Raj, Anand Dutta and Surender Verma have been sentenced to five years under section 201 of the Ranbir Penal Code (as Jammu and Kashmir’s penal code is known) for destruction of evidence.
A seventh accused, Vishal – son of main accused Sanji Ram – was acquitted by the court, giving him the ‘benefit of doubt’, said Farooqi Khan, who represented the victim’s family in the court. The eighth accused, reported to be a juvenile, was not put on trial because the high court is yet to rule on a petition about his age.
The horrific rape, which had polarised the state socially, politically and on communal lines, had brought the BJP-PDP coalition close to a breaking point when several BJP leaders demanded a CBI probe after the accused were arrested by the crime branch.
Two BJP ministers in the erstwhile Mehbooba Mufti government – Chandra Prakash Ganga and Lal Singh – also had to quit for their open support to the accused. Former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah have welcomed the convictions and took a hard swipe at BJP leaders who backed the effort to run down the police probe.