Seventeen months after an eight year old girl was raped and murdered at Kathua, a special court in Pathankot on Monday awarded life imprisonment to three main convicts – Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar – and five years jail and Rs 50,000 fine to three other convicts, while as the seventh accused Vishal Jangotra, son of Sanji Ram, was acquitted.
The girl had been kidnapped on January 10 last year and raped in captivity at a small village temple before being bludgeoned to death. The rape and murder triggered a global outrage, leading even the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promise justice to the victim. The United Nation’s Secretary General António Guterres also sought severe punishment for the killers.
The case had been shifted to Pathankot by the Supreme Court, on the plea of the victims father,. The apex court had ordered day-to-day in-camera trial to ensure a speedy justice. There were 226 witnesses in the case as mentioned by the Crime Branch in its charge sheet.
However, along the way, the case has assumed a huge political dimension. A full-fledged campaign was on in Jammu for a CBI probe into the crime and it was led by the then senior BJP leader Chaudhary Lal Singh. Singh had earlier been ousted as the forest minister for participating in the rally of Hindu Ekta Manch in support of the accused.
In the Valley, a wave of protests had begun in reaction to the belated knowledge of the horrors that the girl had to endure in captivity. Every section of the society had participated in the protests. The students were most vociferous in their support for the victim. Almost every day over several weeks, the students from various colleges, including the womens colleges demonstrated against the crime.
The crime also broke upon the national consciousness with all its ghastly details after being overlooked and largely played down in the media for the initial three months.
Now that the judgement has been announced and the guilty have been brought to justice, one can hope that all the vicious politics that had come to surround the case will disappear. In fact, such a politics was tragic in the first place. A ghastly crime which should have brought the society together ended up dividing it. This is where institutions have come in handy. The judiciary has stepped up to the challenge. The guilty have got their comeuppance, even if there can be differences about the quantum of punishment they received. Once a case is decided on its merit, it reassures the society including the vulnerable sections of the society as to the impartiality of the state structure, which is so intrinsic to the nation-building. Justice goes to the core of it. Much more so, when the victim of the cruelty is an eight year old child.