Yesterday, June 10, six of the seven men accused in the Kathua rape case were found guilty by a special court in Pathankot. However, three men have been sentenced to life imprisonment, one has been acquitted, and none have received the death penalty. This gruesome case of gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old child in Kathua in January 2018, which was reported as politically-motivated, sent shockwaves through the country.
The accused, who have also been convicted for assaulting and killing the minor are: special police officer Deepak Khajuria, civilian Parvesh Kumar, policemen SI Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj, & Surendra Verma, and caretaker Sanji Ram.
Ram is considered the mastermind of the gangrape as well as the conspiracy to create communal tension. Ram’s son, Vishal Jangotra, however has been acquitted.
Ram, Khajuria, and Kumar were convicted for criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping, gangrape, drugging, and destruction of evidence. The three men have been sentenced to life imprisonment up to 25 years, and were fined Rs 1 lakh for murder.
The three policemen have been charged with evidence destruction.
The response to the verdict has been mixed. Some have welcomed the verdict, while others are disappointed about the lack of death penalty and have called for an appeal.
The National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma said that she was expecting the court to dole out death penalty to the guilty, and urged the Jammu and Kashmir government to appeal the verdict in a higher court.
The victim’s mother told India Today, “We want justice. We want them to hang. It has been so long they haven’t been punished even now.”
The family’s legal team will have to move the Punjab and Haryana High Court for an appeal. The lawyers will also appeal against Jangotra’s acquittal.
What is the Kathua rape case?
On January 17, 2018, the victim’s body was discovered in Kathua, a week after her father reported her missing. The police located the girl after Jagdish Raj stumbled upon her while searching for one of his missing horses. The eight-year-old was last seen with her father’s grazing horses.
The eight-year-old child was kidnapped and taken to Devisthan, a temple in Kathua, where she was drugged and gangraped repeatedly. She was given Epitril, a sedative used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
The girl’s ordeal was part of a conspiracy to drive out the Bakarwal community from the region, a nomadic Muslim tribe. The Bakarwals and the Hindus residing in Kathua clashed over land, and the Bakarwals were being accused of alleged drug trafficking and cow slaughter.
“… accused Sanji Ram decided to put a plan to dislodge the Bakarwal Community from Rasana area, which had been brewing in his mind for quite some time, into operation and in pursuance to that he made accused Deepak Khajuria, an SPO in Police Department and JCL as part of conspiracy and assigned them tasks separately and individually”, says the chargesheet.
The trial began in June 2018 and ended a week ago on June 3, 2019. The Supreme Court ordered for the case to be tried outside Jammu & Kashmir, in Pathankot, Punjab, because of its volatile, communal nature.
Senior Advocate Indira Jasing who led Kathua’s legal team said, “Congratulations to the legal team who worked tirelessly to transfer the trial from communally charged Kathua to Pathankot to ensure fair trial.”
Kathua rape sparks communal hatred
The Kathua case was already deeply underscored with communal and casteist sentiment. However, tensions increased when two BJP ministers participated in a rally in defence of the then-accused, and now-convicted, rapists.
Chowdhury Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga attended a rally organised by the Hindu Ekta March that was protesting the Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria’s arrest. The two BJP ministers were questioning the need for the investigation and claimed that the outrage against Kathua’s assault and murder was “anti-India”.
Singh, who was the minister for forests, and Ganga, the minister of commerce and industries, eventually submitted their resignations.
A-list celebrities like Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Swara Bhasker, Kareena Kapoor, and Vishal Dadlani also brought attention to the case when they posted photos of themselves holding a placard saying: “I am Hindustan. I am ashamed. #JusticeForOurChild. 8 Years old. Gangraped. Murdered. In ‘Devi’-sthaan Temple. #Kathua.”
Such posts also fueled the communal debate surrounding this case.
In fact, the trial was conducted under strict watch with over 1,000 security personnel patrolling in and around Pathankot court in case there was communal unrest.
The recent assault and rape case of a child in Aligarh, two-year-old Twinkle Sharma, is taking on a similar communal tone. Some Twitter users are criticising celebrities for not coming out in support of the Hindu child like they did for the Kathua victim.
Advocate Deepika Rajawat also said that she’s received death and rape threats for representing the victim. She was also having trouble finding a landlord who would agree to take her as a tenant because of her role defending the Muslim child.
“The property dealers say that as soon as they take my name (while trying to find her an accommodation on rent), there is a problem… The moment they learn about me, they flatly refuse. This also happened to me in June when I was looking for an office”, she said, according to the Telegraph.
Rajawat has been awarded ‘Women of the Year’ by the Indian Merchants Chamber of Commerce & industry Ladies Wing for representing the victim’s family.
However, she was asked to leave the legal team because the family said she was not “making herself available for court hearings”. Rajawat said that the death threats were making it difficult for her to work on the case.
‘Kathua case verdict is welcome’
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the verdict was “welcome” and that the rapists should not be shown any mercy.
Former Jammu and Kashmir CMs Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah also welcome the verdict.
Kailash Satyarthi, a child’s rights activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said the verdict in the Kathua case was welcomed, but many other children— particularly young girls— have still not received justice.
Satyarthi has called for systemic reform through legal deterrents and social action to uplift women and girl children in India. He has also said that crimes against women and children should not be marred with communal hatred or exploited for political gain.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer for Qrius.