Kathua Girl’s Rape And Murder: Counsel For Accused Made Govt Lawyer  

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 Mehbooba Calls It ‘Shocking’, Omar Worrisome; HR Activists Say It May ‘Scuttle Trial’    

SRINAGAR —  Political parties and human rights organisations are up in arms against government decision to appoint as the additional advocate-general a defence lawyer of an accused arrested on charges of rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua early this year. 

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was in power in partnership with the BJP when the crime occurred, said the selection of Aseem Sawhney for the senior legal officer’s post can upset the course of law.

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On Tuesday, Sawhney was appointed as the state’s additional advocate-general even as he represents one of the main accused in the rape and murder of the eight-year-old nomad girl. 

Sawhney is among four senior additional advocate-generals, three advocate-generals, four deputy advocate-generals and four government advocates in both the Srinagar and Jammu wings of high courts, who were appointed by Governor N.N. Vohra’s administration. Sawhney, who appeared to defend the accused on two occasions, has said that he has not appeared in the case since July 2.

PDP chief spokesperson Rafi Ahmad Mir said Sawhney’s elevation to the post “raises eyebrows” and could thwart justice. It can also have “far-reaching consequences”, he added.

Mir said since the beginning of the trial in the Kathua case, the counsel for the accused had indulged in unethical conduct by “stalling the filing of the charge sheet”. Thus, “this appointment stands in conflict with justice, bearing consequences on the already intimidated tribal population of the Kathua region,” he added.

Mir asked the Governor to review the decision so as to ensure that the ongoing legal process remains unaffected.

Human rights activists say that Sawhney’s appointment to the post amounts to “scuttling” the trial process of the Kathua case. “First, a crucial piece of forensic evidence goes missing. The, a defence lawyer is appointed as additional advocate-general,” shrugs human rights activist Shrimoyee Ghosh. 

In series of tweets, former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti sought intervention of Governor NN Vohra in the matter. “Rewarding those who defend alleged murderers & rapists is abhorrent & a shocking violation of the spirit of justice. Such a move will only serve to encourage the rape culture rampant in our society. Expect the @jandkgovernor to intervene.”

She added: “Ironic that a day after celebrating World Day for International Justice, the defence counsel in the horrific rape & murder Kathua case has been appointed as Additional Advocate General.” Former chief minister and National Conference vice president in a tweet said: “The decision is both inexplicable & worrisome but if the victim’s lawyer is not unduly concerned by this development the rest of us should just let her get on with the job of ensuring justice for the young victim.”

“We should not react to this. We should focus on the trial,” said Deepika Singh Rajawat, the lawyer representing the family of the nomad girl. “They (the government) comes out with nonsense every now and then to take the attention away from the trial.”  

According to the Crime Branch charge sheet, the eight accused had drugged and repeatedly raped the eight-year-old girl inside a temple in Kathua district’s Rasana village. Kathua is a Hindu-majority district where Muslim nomads lived in peace for decades before the men strangulated and bludgeoned the child to death with a rock.

The brutality triggered public rage against two BJP ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga for participating in a rally held by the the right-wing Hindu Ekta Manch that sought the release of the accused. Subsequently, following intense pressure the BJP removed the two ministers from the Cabinet of the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government, which eventually fell on June 19.

The trial of the case is going in Punjab after the Supreme Court, on May 7, ordered a transfer of the case from Kathua to Pathankot.

So far, the trial has witnessed several dramatic scenes, including one earlier this week when an envelope that was supposed to contain the victim’s hair — produced in court by the Special Investigating Team — turned out to be empty.

“The envelope with seven seals/stamps of the FSL (forensic science laboratory), which conducted the DNA test of the victim’s hair, was opened in the court on the judge’s order, but there were no hair inside it,” the media reports quoted sources as saying.

Earlier this week, a policeman accused his seniors of not depositing the victim’s clothes in the malkhana (warehouse) of the police station to tamper with the evidence. Head constable Surinder Pal told the court that sub inspectors Anand Dutta and Tilka Raj had tried to intimidate him into recording backdated entries when they submitted “concocted” evidence the next day.

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