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SC intervention in Kathua case

SC intervention in Kathua case
Following its warning, on Monday, the Supreme Court transferred the trial of the Kathua gang-rape and murder case to the Sessions Court Pathankot in Punjab. The court made the decision in view of the widespread apprehensions that the trial in the case would not be fair if the prosecution proceedings are held in the District and Sessions Court Kathua. The SC has also asked the Pathankot district court to fast-track the trial and hold its proceedings on a day-to-day basis. The court's decision came on a plea filed by the victim's father to transfer the case to another court. The SC also turned down the plea of the accused to transfer the investigations of the case to the CBI.
In the Kathua gang-rape and murder case, which sparked nation-wide outrage and protests, an eight-year-old girl of a nomadic tribe from a minority community was abducted from near her house while she was out grazing her horses in the adjacent forest. She was drugged and gang-raped before being murdered after a week. Her body was found deserted in the same forest. In the charge-sheet filed by the Jammu and Kashmir police, seven persons, including the caretaker of a temple, have been accused of committing the crime. A separate charge-sheet has also been filed against a juvenile. The police, in its charge-sheet, revealed that the accused did not want the victim's family to settle in the village. In order to scare them away from the area, the accused hatched a conspiracy under which the victim girl was abducted and killed after being gang-raped. The accused have maintained that the police charge-sheet is baseless and they are being framed for being Hindus. The issue was soon taken up by right-wing outfits who trashed the police theory and held protests in Kathua and Jammu. A section of the advocates in Kathua district court and Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar association tried to prevent the police from filing the charge-sheet in the court. They were of the view that the state police had conducted the investigation in a partisan manner and falsely implicated the accused in the case. The victim's lawyer, Deepika Singh Rajawat, received threats from the advocates for taking up the case. At this juncture, the SC wrote letters to the District Bar Association Kathua and Jammu and the Kashmir High Court Bar Association, restraining them from influencing the case. The SC reminded them that the victim has a right to be represented by a lawyer in the court. Later, the SC warned all the parties concerned that if it feels that a fair trial is not possible in the given circumstances, it would transfer the case to another court. On Monday, the SC did exactly the same by transferring the case to District and Sessions Court Pathankot. The SC also asked the state government to provide adequate security to the victim's family, their lawyer and the witnesses.
In the meanwhile, some news channels have reported that one of the accused, Vishal Jangotra, whom the Jammu and Kashmir police have reported in its charge-sheet to be near the crime spot, was in fact in Meerut, where he is pursuing his studies. Jangotra's landlady and friends in Meerut have testified to this on news channels. Apart from the locals and a section of lawyers in Kathua and Jammu, these news channels are now questioning the truthfulness of the police investigation.
The Kathua gang-rape and murder case assumes a greater significance in view of the rising number of cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Since the promulgation of the law in 2012, the country has witnessed nearly 35,000 cases being registered under the Act every year. There are more than one lakh POCSO cases pending in different courts in the country and the pendency rate of these cases is as high as 90 per cent. The conviction rate in these cases is also low at less than 30 per cent. A high rate of pending cases and a low conviction rate in the POCSO cases have practically made the law ineffective. The Kathua case and the subsequent rise in sexual crime against children across the country underscore the need to revamp the criminal justice system to make it more effective. The SC's pro-active approach in this regard is praiseworthy. By transferring the Kathua gang-rape and murder case to the Pathankot district court, the SC has not only laid the bedrock for a fair trial but also ensured that people's faith in the fairness of the judiciary remains untarnished.
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