Srinagar: A retired government officer accused of planning the kidnapping, gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua in January surrendered to the police today.
- Retired officer planned crime to strike fear among nomadic family: Police
- Girl was drugged, raped repeatedly at religions facility under him: Cops
- Incident sparked huge row, Hindu groups protested prosecution of accused
Sanji Ram, 60, had been avoiding arrest since the high court directed the crime branch to arrest him. The former revenue officer allegedly wanted to strike fear among the child's Bakharwal or goatherd nomadic community and drive the tribe out of Kathua. He surrendered after his son was arrested from Uttar Pradesh.
"Sanji Ram has surrendered today. He was the mastermind behind the heinous crime. With his arrest all the accused in the gruesome rape and murder have been arrested," said Shesh Paul Vaid, the Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police.
The police are waiting for a forensic report to file a charge-sheet.
According to investigations, the little girl was drugged and repeatedly raped after she was held captive at a religious place "Devasthan" at Rasana village. Her body was found in the forests on January 17, a week after she went missing from a spot where her horses were grazing.
The police say Sanji Ram is the custodian of the "Devasthan" where the girl was held captive for a week. He had denied the allegation and had told NDTV that he was not the only person with keys to the Devasthan.
Sanji Ram was also behind recent protests against crime branch investigations in the case. Officials say he was brought to crime branch office by a right wing activist and lawyer, Ankur Sharma. He was immediately taken into custody and is being questioned by a special investigation team.
Ankur Sharma has been campaigning against Muslim settlements in and around Jammu and what he calls a "conspiracy to change the demography" of Jammu.
Yesterday, the police arrested Sanji Ram's son Vishal from a college in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. Vishal is one of the main accused in the rape and murder of the child.
Special police officer Deepak Khajuria and a juvenile related to Sanji Ram have already been arrested. The 'juvenile' was later found to be 19, which is adult by law.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court is supervising the crime branch investigations after the girl's family filed a petition in court.
The Hindu Ekta Munch launched a massive campaign against the crime branch, alleging wrongful arrests. They had demanded that the case be handed over to the CBI.
Protest marches in support of the rape accused were also attended by BJP ministers and legislators, which triggered a major political controversy.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and opposition leader Omar Abdullah slammed those rallying behind the rape accused.
On March 4, her deputy and senior BJP leader Nirmal Singh assured a fair probe in the case.
The arrest of Sanji Ram is seen as a major breakthrough, which can expose the conspiracy behind the savage crime.