Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat set base for the case, ensured challan: Defence Counsel
Jammu, March 21
Even as the entire world is speculating early verdict in the much hyped alleged Kathua rape and murder case, the people associated with the case, including defence lawyers and public prosecutors are uncertain about the time the case will take, although it has entered into an advanced stage.
The horrific Kathua incident occurred in January last year, when an eight-year-old nomadic shepherd girl from Gujjar community was allegedly raped and murdered. The matter came to light after advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, a Kashmiri Pandit from Jammu took up the matter. She ensured the investigation that was conducted by Crime Branch Jammu, was monitored by Jammu and Kashmir High Court. Later she along with a senior Supreme Court lawyer filed a petition for seeking transfer of the case to Chandigarh in Punjab, which was instead, transferred to Pathankot, where the trial is presently going on.
114 witnesses examined, presented before the court: Public Prosecution
Speaking to The Typewriter, public prosecutor Santokh Singh Basra who along with senior public prosecutor JK Chopra and two other public prosecutors from Crime Branch Jammu is appearing for prosecution said that the final verdict in the case will take few more months.
Basra said, “So far, 114 witnesses have been examined and presented before the Court from the prosecution side, while as couple of the witnesses have turned hostile against whom the Crime Branch Jammu has taken action under law.”
When asked about the fate of case and role of private lawyers, he said, “we do not know which side this case would go, but we are putting all our best efforts to render justice to the victim who was brutally murdered and raped,” said Basra, adding that no private lawyer is appearing presently on behalf of the parents of the victim. He said technically only specially appointed public prosecutors or the public prosecutors of the Court can conduct the trial in the criminal cases as per the relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
HERO OR VILLAIN: WHAT ROLE ADVOCATE DEEPIKA PLAYED?
Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat came under national and international spotlight after she took up the alleged rape and murder case of the eight-year old nomad girl in Rassana-Kathua in February 2018. She offered pro-bono legal support to the victim’s family and fought against all odds to bring the case to the notice of the High Court. Later she managed to take it to Supreme Court to get it transferred to Pathankot. Despite putting all the efforts to ensure justice for the victim, she was divested of power of attorney by the family of the victim in November last year. Talking to The Typewriter, defence lawyer Anil Sethi said that Deepika had set the base for the case and ensured its transfer from Jammu and Kashmir to Pathankot. “It was only because of her efforts that the case came under the spotlight of media and challan was presented before the court,” said Sethi. “State criminal cases are taken up by State counsels – the appointed public prosecutors – which is the provision of the CrPc. I am a private counsel. I took up the matter to the High Court when we filed a writ petition for monitoring the investigation that was conducted by the Crime Branch, Jammu. Then I took them up to the Supreme Court because that was also in my capacity. Any private lawyer can appear in the High Court and Supreme Court given the client’s permission. In this case also, the same has happened,” reported Wire, quoting advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat. She said, the family being nomadic, keeps on moving from one place to the other. “When the case ended up in the Supreme Court in June last year, and the trial started, they had migrated to the hilly areas in Ladakh, so it wasn’t possible to be in touch with them. Everyone needs to understand that I was in touch with lawyers and others to stay updated about the case,” she was quoted. On allegations of exploiting the family for money, Deepika said that she personally requested the then IGP, Jammu Zone to initiate a probe in this regard, but that never happened. Former senior Public Prosecutor-Advocate, Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Jammu-Aijaz Tak, having 37 years of experience in public prosecution appreciated the role of advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat and said she had done a marvellous job by being the first to extend legal support to the parents of the victims. She highlighted the case and brought this case to present shape. “There is too much politics around and people have this thing in their blood that they have to harm someone. I have never seen such an atmosphere anywhere during my career,” he said and added that someone from somewhere has definitely influenced the complainant, forcing them to file an application that they no longer want services of advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat. He further maintained that people have slapped ‘unwarranted and nonsense’ allegations against advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, but the fact of the matter is that if she had to betray the complainant, she would have not fought so long alone to get the accused people booked in the case. Public prosecutor Santokh Singh Basra also said that it is the public prosecutors, who are conducting the trial before the court, as after withdrawal of the advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat from the case, the parents of the victims have not appointed any new private lawyer in the case.
Police arrested eight men, including a retired government official, four police officers and a minor in connection with the case. The crime shocked the entire nation, even people from abroad expressed their sympathies and angst. The incident also created fault lines between Hindu-majority Jammu and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, with some fringe elements from majority community in Jammu allegedly trying to shield the accused in the case.
The arrest sparked protests in Jammu – local lawyers at Kathua tried to stop the Crime Branch team from filing chargesheet at the concerned Court in Kathua which led advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat to advice the parents to approach the Supreme Court by way of filing of transfer petition for seeking transfer of the case.
Two cabinet ministers from BJP attended a rally in support of the accused at Kathua and supported agitation in favour of accused. However. they were later sacked from their ministries.
Talking to The Typewriter, defence lawyer Anil Sethi said, “There are six defence lawyers including AK Shawney, Vikrant, Pathania and Anmol among others,” adding that prosecution evidence is over, judge is putting gist of prosecution case one by one. He further asserted that now accused are being questioned under 342 CrPc Jammu and Kashmir.
Following the monitoring of the investigation by the High Court, conducted by the Crime Branch, almost all the accused were arrested after the intervention of the High Court which reflected the seriousness in the investigation.
When asked about time to be taken for final verdict, he said ‘even god cannot tell when final verdict will come’. “400 odd questions have been put to Deepak Khajuria, which took one and half months,” he shared , adding that now questions will be deferred and have to be reframed.
The gravity of the offence and the seriousness of the trial could be gauged from the fact that none of the arrested accused has been ‘set on bail’ so far.
According to the investigators, Asifa was allegedly confined in a ‘devsthan’ (which is not a temple) for several days and given sedatives that kept her unconscious. The chargesheet alleged that she was “raped for days, tortured and then finally murdered”. She was strangled to death and then hit on the head twice with a stone.
As per the same, Sanji Ram, a 60-year-old retired revenue officer, allegedly planned the crime with the help of police officers Surender Verma, Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj and Mr Khajuria. Sanji Ram’s son, Vishal, his nephew, a minor, and his friend, Parvesh Kumar, are also accused for the rape and murder.