The juvenile is accused of raping and murdering an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl of Kathua’s Rasana village and faces a separate trial before the Juvenile Justice Board.
While the six accused in Kathua gang-rape and murder case were convicted by the Pathankot Sessions Court on June 10, the fate of the juvenile — who is the main accused in the case – is unclear as the case remains unheard and undecided in the Jammu court.
The juvenile is accused of raping and murdering an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl of Kathua’s Rasana village and faces a separate trial before the Juvenile Justice Board. However, a petition filed by the J&K Crime Branch in the Jammu & Kashmir High Court against his claim of juvenility has meant that the trial has not moved forward even more than a year after it was committed to the Board. The accused is lodged at a juvenile home in Jammu’s RS Pura.
The case in the high court against trial court’s decision to accept the accused’s claim of juvenility was filed in May 2018 by J&K Home Department and, as per the records, was listed for hearing on 13 dates. But the case has faced adjournments on most occasions. In 2019, the case was listed only on three dates and the orders available for two dates show that there was no appearance from the prosecution and even no short dates for hearing were sought to ensure speedy disposal of the case.
“Awaiting appearance of learned counsel for the petitioners, adjourned,” reads the order passed by a single bench of the high court on May 6 while postponing the hearing for August 8.
The juvenile’s fate holds key to the case as the verdict over the prosecution charges against him may also impact the expected appeals of the six convicts in Punjab and Haryana High Court as it was the minor who, according to the police, helped the main conspirator Sanji Ram in the crime and was the one to kidnap the girl. Ram and Khajuria, along with another accused Parvesh Kumar, had facilitated the rape through the juvenile, the trial court in Pathankot said in its verdict while convicting them under Section 376D (gang-rape).
According to the J&K Police Crime Branch, the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Kathua erred in accepting the accused’s claim of juvenility and the decision is contrary to law. It has cited the report of a medical board of Government Medical College Jammu, which has declared the accused to be “not less than 19 and not more than 21”, and also claimed there were discrepancies pertaining to the date of birth in his school and municipality records.
“There is a gap of only about three months between the ages of accused and his sister. This claim is medically not possible,” said a senior police officer associated with the investigation, adding the case before the Juvenile Justice Board has not proceeded due to pendency of the prosecution appeal before the high court.
On the order passed on May 6 regarding the apparent absence of the petitioner, senior additional advocate general H A Siddiqui said, “I am the senior additional advocate general and I never miss the cases. The ‘awaiting appearance’ does not mean absence. For example, I must have been stuck before a division bench. We have to give preference to division bench and as per court practice I have to give preference to the bench of two judges”.
The Pathankot district and sessions judge Dr Tejwinder Singh on June 10 sentenced three main accused Ram, Khajuria and Kumar to life imprisonment and to 25 years imprisonment for rape. The minor faces even graver charges of the actual crime against the Bakerwal girl as he is said to have been the main arm of conspiracy which, according to the prosecution, was to dislodge the Muslim nomadic tribe from Rasana village in Kathua. Three former police officers were sentenced to five years imprisonment for destruction of vital evidence.