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Trial in Kathua rape and murder case nears completion

By Anuj Cariappa

Srinagar, June 03: The trial in the case of rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir is nearing completion nearly a year after it began at a court in Punjab's Pathankot, officials said on Sunday.

Defence lawyers are likely to complete their final arguments on Monday, followed by a brief concluding statement from the prosecution team led by J K Chopra, they said, adding that the verdict is expected thereafter.

Girls during a candle light vigil against the brutal rape and murder of 8-year-old Kathua girl Asifa and demanding for justice in Bengaluru

The day-to-day in-camera trial began in the first week of June last year at the district and session court in Pathankot after the Supreme Court directed that the case be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir after lawyers in Kathua had prevented crime branch officials from filing the charge sheet in the case.

A political turmoil was witnessed in the Jammu region last January after the Jammu and Kashmir Police's crime branch took over the case and arrested eight people, including a juvenile and two police officials who were accused of destruction of evidence.

The case became a bone of contention between then ruling alliance partners PDP and BJP. The BJP had to sack two of its ministers, Chowdhury Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, for participating in a rally of Hindu Ekta Manch in support of those arrested by the crime branch in the case.

The crime branch arrested village head Sanji Ram, his son Vishal, juvenile nephew and his friend Anand Dutta, and two special police officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma. Head constable Tilak Raj and sub-inspector Anand Dutta, who allegedly took Rs 4 lakh from Sanji Ram and destroyed crucial evidence, were also arrested by the crime branch.

Kathua rape case: SC issues notice to J&K government over alleged torture of witness Talib Hussain

Charges of rape and murder were framed by the district and sessions judge against seven out of the eight accused. The trial against the juvenile is yet to begin as his petition regarding his age is to be heard by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

In its May 7 order, the apex court said, "The pivotal fact around which the controversy centres, is abduction, rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl. An FIR was lodged at Hiranagar Police Station, Kathua...The investigating agency, namely, the Crime Branch, which took over the investigation on 22nd January, 2018 from the local police has already filed the charge-sheet on 9th April, 2018, in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kathua in the State of Jammu and Kashmir."

However, the country's topmost court did not say anything about handing over the case to the CBI and rather transferred the trial to the District and Sessions judge in Pathankot in Punjab, 30 km from Kathua.

"The learned district and sessions judge, Pathankot, shall himself take up the trial and not assign it to any additional sessions judge and shall fast-track the trial and take it up on day-to-day basis so that there is no delay in trial," the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had said in April last year.

All the accused, barring the juvenile, have been shifted to Gurdaspur jail following an intervention by the Supreme Court which also restricted appearance of the defence lawyers and limited it to one or maximum of two per accused.

The crime branch had submitted the charge sheet in the crime on April 9 before the Kathua court.

The case hit the headlines after lawyers tried to prevent the police from filing the charge sheet.

According to the charge sheet, the eight-year-old girl, who was kidnapped on January 10 this year, was allegedly raped by in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district after having been kept sedated for four days before she was bludgeoned to death.

The abduction, rape and killing of the child was part of a carefully planned strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the 15-page charge sheet says.

During trial, the prosecution presented opinions of doctors to suggest that an overdose of sedatives, forcibly administered to the victim before murder, could have led her into "coma" (loss of consciousness).

The crime branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police had sent a sample of viscera to examine the effect of "mannar" candies (believed to be local cannabies) and "Epitril 0.5 mg" tablets for further opinion to a forensic laboratory.

The crime branch had decided to seek further medical opinion after it was claimed by the accused people and their lawyers in the court as well as on social media through their supporters that it was virtually impossible that the eight-year-old girl could not have cried for help when such an alleged brutal attack was happening on her.

The doctors after examining the viscera, which contains internal organs of the body, specifically those within the chest (as the heart or lungs) or abdomen (as the liver, pancreas or intestines), opined that medicine administered to the victim contains Clonazepam salt and has to be administered under medical supervision keeping in mind the age and weight of the patient.

"Considering her (victim) of 30 Kgs body weight, the therapeutic dose of 0.1 to 0.2 mgs per day divided in three dose for patient (is recommended)," it said.

"She was forcefully administered five tablets of Clonazepam 0.5 mg each on January 11, 2018 which is higher than the safe therapeutic dose. Subsequently more tablets were given...the signs and symptoms of an overdose may include drowsiness, confusion, impaired coordination, slow reflexes, slowed or stopped breathing, coma (loss of consciousness) and death," the opinion of the doctor had said.

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