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SC stays Kathua rape and murder trial

Anurag Dey | Updated on: 27 April 2018, 20:46 IST
(Arya Sharma / Catch News)

The Supreme Court Friday stayed the trial of the Kathua gangrape and murder case while hearing petition seeking transfer of the trial out of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and handing over the investigation of the gruesome case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

A Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice DY Chandrachud and the newly sworn-in Justice Indu Malhotra directed the trial listed for Saturday in Kathua be stayed and posted 7 May as the next date of hearing of the pleas.

The victim’s father approached the apex court, seeking the trial be conducted outside the state as some lawyers allegedly obstructed court proceedings and threatened the advocate representing the family.

Subsequently two prime accused in the case – Sanji Ram and Vishal Jangotra – approached the SC opposing the transfer of the trial. They also seek the investigation to be handed over to the CBI, claiming they are framed by the state police.

The J&K Police chargesheet alleges the eight-year-old victim was drugged and gangraped for days before being killed and mutilated.

Friday's hearing was full of heated exchanges between rival counsels, sources present said.

The counsel for the accused claimed the police investigation was mala fide and tainted; and the accused have been falsely implicated; also that the accused were ready to undergo a narcoanalysis.

The family’s counsel, Indira Jaising, on the other hand, affirmed the police investigation and argued for transferring the trail to Chandigarh for ensuring free trial and preventing further obstruction to court proceedings.

“The lawyers who obstructed were celebrating on the social media that your lordship made no strong observations,” said Jaising referring to the Bar Council of India (BCI), which has not just dismissed the claims of obstruction by lawyers but even has endorsed handing over the probe to the CBI.

BCI clean chit

Reports of lawyers from the Jammu Bar and Kathua Bar preventing Crime Branch officers from submitting the chargesheet in the case attracted nationwide condemnation and prompted the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognizance. But the BCI trashed all allegations in its report.

Following reports of obstruction by lawyers, the SC directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to beef up security of the victim’s family and provide security to counsel.

The BCI probe panel headed by former Allahabad High Court judge Tarun Agarwala also dismissed allegations of threats to the rape victim family’s cousel Deepika Rajawat. Rajawat who took up the case had recently expressed apprehensions, including getting killed or raped.

Giving a clean chit to the Jammu lawyers, the BCI panel blamed the media for misreporting: “The media mis-reported the entire episode, especially relating to the conduct of advocates of Kathua Bar Association and J&K High Court Bar Association. The media has wrongly reported that the (two bar associations) are siding with the accused.”

The five member panel claimed to have visited the temple where the victim was raped and kept captive and also talked to judicial officers, lawyers, members of the Gujjar and Bakarwal community. According to it Rajawat’s allegations that she was threatened by the the J&K Bar Association president was not supported by material evidence.

“Majority of the lady advocates of the Bar Association categorically submitted that they looked upon the President of the Bar Association as a fatherly figure and that there was no question of the President threatening Ms Dipika Singh Rajawat,” the report read.

“The demand for CBI enquiry by the public, members of civil society, Jammu and Kathua Bar Association and Jammu & Kashmir Bar Association appears to be justifiable,” it added in its report submitted to the apex court Bench Thursday.

While the family’s counsel strongly objected to the BCI findings, the Bench said focusing on it would be a digression. “Let us not digress from the real issue. Our first and constitutional concern is to ensure fair trial,” the CJI said, asserting the trial will be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir at the “slightest possibility” of lack of a fair trial.

First published: 27 April 2018, 20:46 IST