‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear’…….
In the backdrop of a communally-charged and politically fraught atmosphere, the judgment pronounced by the Pathankot special court, hearing the rape and murder of eight-year old nomadic girl in Kathua (Jammu region), that has sent shockwaves across the society and rattled the state, has come as a relief to the distraught family in particular and society in general. At the same time, the verdict has struck a big slap on the faces of those who brazenly tried to communalize the heinous crime, defended the accused, vilified the victims, threatened the legal system.
The very shifting of the case from Kathua in JK state to district and Sessions Court in Pathankot (Punjab) on the orders of Supreme Court on May last year is a grim reminder of the intensity of the communal polarization and wanton disregard to the criminal justice system that held hostage the region at that time. It was after the lawyers in Kathua prevented the Crime Branch officials of JK police from filing charge sheet against the accused of the ghastly crime that the Apex Court order came.
The judgment delivered is in itself tribute to the painstaking efforts of the prosecution and the relentless investigation of the CB. They nailed the lie and exposed the forces that wanted to play politics over the heinous crime. They deserve appreciation for securing the conviction of the accused. The verdict has vindicated the probe carried by the CB. Braving all odds and pressure, they worked hard to connect the dots and piece together the evidence against the accused. The credit for getting conviction of six of the seven accused goes to Crime Branch led by IG Afadul Mujtaba, duly assisted by SSP Ramesh Kumar Jalla, Additional SP Naved Peerzada and DSP Shetambari. Not to forget the names of Deepika Rajwant and Talib who, in defiance to threats, ensured facts come to light. To name them is to acknowledge their painstaking efforts and professional integrity in ensuring the culprits not escape from the claws of law. ‘The circumstantial evidence is complete in itself and is incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis that the guilt of the accused and such evidence is consistent with the guilt of the accused’, the judge said.
Rejecting the defence pleas on defective probe, the honorable court of Justice Tejwinder Singh has termed the crime ‘devilish and monstrous’ committed in most ‘shameful, inhumane and barbaric manner’ for which ‘ poetic justice’ needs to be done to its perpetrators. Sanji Ram, the mastermind and caretaker of the devasthanam (temple)—where the hapless girl was drugged, raped and murdered in January last year-, Deepak Khujuria, a special police officer and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian—the three main accused—were sentenced for life. Though they spared the death penalty, a punishment sought by the prosecution, life term means they will be in jail till the end of their natural life. The other three, sub inspector Anand Datta, head constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surinder Verma, were convicted for destruction of evidence to cover up the crime and handed down five years imprisonment and Rs fifty thousand fine each. The court, on benefit of doubt, acquitted the seventh accused Vishal Jangotra, son of Sanji Ram. Pointing to the ‘strong motive’ behind the occurrence of the crime , the judge said: ‘The Bakarwal community was apparently not accepted by the local residents of that area, which led to strained relations between the two and as such there was a strong motive behind this occurrence’ and rejected the contention of a battery of 57 defence lawyers.
‘Heaven and hell’, stressed the judge Dr Tejwinder Singh, ‘are not geographical locations, our thoughts, actions and character create the situations of heaven or hell for us’ while writing the 432-page judgment. Priceless words that point to the exact location where we need to start from and fathom out good from bad, virtue from vice, chaos from peace, justice from anarchy. As we maintain the purity of our mind and soul, we are at peace with ourself and the world outside and there is enough to frolic on the beaches of pleasure. Once the demon within overpowers us, the crown of creature embraces beastliness. And to maintain the glory of the humanity it is these beasts in human frame that have to be caged and, at times, sent to gallows.
While people in general expressed satisfaction on the conviction part of the judgment, but with the quantum of the sentence the people were expecting the convicted would be awarded death sentence as the grave nature of the dastardly crime was craving to enlist it in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases. In that perspective, as the Kashmir High Court Bar Association says, the court has given the three main accused ‘ lenient punishment’. The other three convicts, It says, were also part of the conspiracy and being police officials (custodian of law) they, instead of five years jail term, deserved maximum punishment. However, notwithstanding the ‘ lenient punishment’ awarded to the accused, the Bar has appreciated the judgment and believes the verdict will prevent potential offenders from committing such inhuman acts on hapless victims. It also lauded the court ‘ in completing the trial of the case within 17 months, during the course of which it recorded the statement of114 witnesses without availing a single holiday’.
The National Commission for Women while welcoming the conviction asked the state government to appeal in high court and demand capital punishment for all the six convicts. As IG Crime, Afadul Mujtaba told GK, they are mulling the option to go for appeal against the quantum of sentence as also the acquittal of the one of the accused. But came with a rider, ‘if need arises’! Mujtaba Sahab, you have option at hand, avail of it. Don’t let it slip away. Make the perpetrators of the devilish act example for others.