The trial court verdict finding three men guilty of the horrific gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district last year must be seen as the victory of justice over communal propaganda. It is the answer that due process has given to sectarian interlopers who sought to derail the investigation and trial by projecting the heinous crime against a girl belonging to the nomadic Bakerwal tribe as a plot to implicate Hindus. It is also a triumph for the justice system, as the Pathankot district and sessions court has lived up to the faith reposed in it by the Supreme Court last year, when the case was transferred from J&K to Punjab for a fair trial. The apex court had taken note of the hindrances to a fair trial in the jurisdictional court, especially the hostile atmosphere against the prosecution. The formation of a group called the Hindu Ekta Manch in support of those arrested and the role played by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, including two Ministers in the then J&K government, had whipped up communal frenzy. It is commendable that the Crime Branch of the J&K Police and the prosecutors have brought home the guilt of Sanji Ram, Parvesh Kumar and Deepak Khajuria, who have been sentenced to life for murder and 25 years in prison for gang-rape. Further, the role of some police personnel in trying to destroy evidence has also been exposed. Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Special Police Officer Surender Verma and Head Constable Tilak Raj get a five-year term for washing some blood-stained clothes, concealing the victim’s necklace and hair band, and misleading the investigating police team about the place of occurrence of the crime.
The investigation had been fairly quick, and the charge-sheet was prepared in two months. The trial lasted a year, and the verdict has been delivered within 17 months of the occurrence. Appeals by the convicts are only to be expected, and the Judge Tejwinder Singh’s approach and the manner in which he appreciated the evidence would be determined by higher courts. Even the prosecution may appeal against the acquittal of one of the accused, whose alibi that he was appearing in an examination in Uttar Pradesh at the time of the incident has been accepted. Some may question the verdict for not imposing the death penalty in what was presented as a crime aimed at dislodging the Bakerwal community from the territory. However, it is a needless cavil, as what matters is that criminal liability has been established and a life term, which ought to mean the remainder of the convicts’ natural life, has been awarded. The larger takeaway is that efficient investigation, diligent prosecution and judicial sensitivity can ensure speedy justice in all cases, and more particularly in cases of ghastly crimes that cause widespread revulsion and outrage. It is indeed a judgment that will inspire confidence in the justice system.