Three witnesses had alleged harassment by SIT and sought independent enquiry
The Supreme Court today asked three witnesses, who had alleged harassment at the hands of special investigation team (SIT) probing Kathua gang rape and murder case, to approach the Jammu and Kashmir High Court with their grievances.
The three witnesses, Sahil Sharma, Sachin Sharma and Neeraj Sharma, who were the classmates of one of the key accused in college, had alleged harassment by the SIT and sought an independent enquiry into it.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud refused to order a probe into the allegation of the witnesses that they were harassed during the process of recording of their statement before the state police.
The bench disposed of their petition giving them the liberty to approach the HC with their grievances.
The court was hearing the matter relating to the gangrape and murder of an eight-year old girl, belonging to a minority nomadic community, who had disappeared from near her home in a village close to Kathua in the Jammu region on January 10.
Her body was found in the same area a week later. On June 7, 2018, the district and sessions court had framed charges against seven of the eight accused in the case.
The eighth accused in the case is a juvenile.
The trial in the case began on May 31 with the seven accused being produced before the district and sessions judge after the Supreme Court shifted the hearing outside Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the 15-page chargesheet of the Jammu and Kashmir’s Crime Branch, the girl from a minority nomadic community was kidnapped on 10 January and allegedly raped in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district. She was kept sedated for four days before being bludgeoned to death. Her body was found four days after she went missing.
While transferring the case from Kathua to Pathankot in Punjab, about 30 kilometres away, the top court directed a day-to-day, in-camera trial in the case. The trial was shifted after allegations of bias.
The lawyers in Kathua, from the Kathua Bar Association and the Jammu Bar Association had tried to prevent the Crime Branch from filing the chargesheet in the rape and murder case. However the police, after calling reinforcements had filed the chargesheet.
“We have filed charge sheet against seven accused persons and charge sheet against a juvenile person will be field separately,” IGP Syed Afadul Mujtaba had said.
The President of the Bar, Kirty Bhushan Mahajan had said, “All Bar members strongly condemn the conduct of the Crime Branch in the case. The state government has failed to deal with the issue and understand the sentiments of the people. The agitation of the Bar was successful and the Crime Branch was compelled to go back and the Challan could not be presented in the court.”
The Civil society along with lawyers from the Bar Association and ruling Bhartiya Janata Party then took out a rally by the name of Hindu Ekta Manch in supoprt of the accused.
Ankur Sharma, then the defence lawyer of the five out of seven accused in the Kathua rape and murder case, in a video had said that the people of Kashmir have gone ‘insane’. The reason for their ‘worry’, he had said, was that “you people (Hindus) have united as one” while referring to the Hindu Ekta Manch, which was formed in support of the accused.
The Supreme Court (SC) had directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to provide police protection to Kathua victim’s family members and their lawyers. The victim’s lawyer, Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat had said that she was being threatened for taking up the case. The victim’s father had also asked the apex court for adequate security for family members of the victimAdvocate Rajawat and her family members, and Advocate Talib Hussain.
The SC in May had transferred the trial of the case to Pathankot in Punjab.
The apex court had earlier said that the case will be shifted out of JK at the ‘slightest possibility of lack of a fair trial’. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said its “real concern” was to see that a fair trial was conducted.
The trial later began in the court of District and Session Judge, Pathankot, Punjab, amid tight security, on May 1.