Court orders FIR against Kathua rape investigators

Arun Sharma
The SIT’s investigations led to life terms in June for the three main accused, including Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the prayer hall where the crime took place (Reuters/File)

A Jammu court Tuesday ordered an FIR to be filed against members of J&K Crime Branch’s Special Investigation Team (SIT), which probed the rape and murder in Kathua of an eight-year-old girl last year.

The order is based on a complaint from three persons alleging torture during interrogation to “provide false evidence” against one of the accused, Vishal Jangotra, who was later acquitted in the case.

In their application, Sachin Sharma, Neeraj Sharma and Sahil Sharma, all residents of Kathua and Samba districts, claimed that no action had been taken on their complaint that was lodged on September 24 with the Pacca Danga police station in Jammu.

“From the gist of the complaint, cognizable offences are made out... Therefore, application of the applicants under section 156(3) Cr.P.C. is allowed with the direction to SSP Jammu to register FIR... under relevant provisions of law and report compliance by next date of hearing on November 7,’’ stated the order issued by City Judge Prem Sagar.

While the SIT was headed by a Kashmir Pandit officer SSP Ramesh Kumar Jalla, his deputy ASP Naveed Peerzada was from the Valley while DSP Shwetambari Sharma, the only woman police officer in the team, was from Jammu. Apart from them, the court’s order covers DySP Nassir Hussain, Urfan Wani and Kewal Kishore.

Of the officers, only DySP Hussain is still with the Crime Branch. SSP Jalla has already retired, Additional SP Peerzada is part of a UN mission in South Sudan, and DySP Sharma is posted at the police headquarters in Jammu.

SSP (Jammu) Tejinder Singh told The Indian Express that he is yet to receive a copy of the court order. “I have heard about it only on social media so far. Let the order come, we will see,” he said.

The SIT was constituted by the then PDP-BJP government headed by Mehbooba Mufti to investigate the rape and murder of the girl belonging to the nomadic Bakherwal community in Kathua early last year.

The incident had triggered nationwide outrage and split the local population along religious lines. Two BJP ministers in the state government at the time, Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Parkash Ganga, had publicly endorsed demands from family members of the accused for a CBI probe in the case. Facing a backlash, the two were made to quit the Cabinet.

The case was also shifted to Pathankot following a Supreme Court order after lawyers in Kathua prevented Crime Branch officials from filing a chargesheet.

The SIT’s investigations led to life terms in June for the three main accused: Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the prayer hall where the crime took place, Special Police Officer Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar. Three other accused — Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surender Verma — were charged with destruction of evidence and awarded five years’ jail.

Jangotra, who is the son of Sanji Ram, was given the benefit of doubt and acquitted by the special court hearing the case. The eighth accused was declared a juvenile and tried under related provisions.

In their complaint against the SIT, Sachin Sharma, Neeraj Sharma and Sahil Sharma claimed that the investigators tortured them to depose against Jangotra. The three had first recorded their allegations during investigations in the case when they were produced before a magistrate for recording their statement.

Following Jangotra’s acquittal, they lodged their complaint with the SHO of Pacca Danga station. “On October 5, we approached SSP (Jammu) but nothing has been done in the matter so far,” said their advocate Ankur Sharma.