The seven accused in the gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua will be shifted from a prison in Jammu and Kashmir to Punjab's Gurdaspur district jail, the Supreme Court ordered today. And when the families of the accused come to meet them, their travel expenses will be borne by the Jammu and Kashmir government, the top court said.
The accused have, however, opposed the transfer to Gurdaspur. Their lawyer argued that it will be difficult for their families to travel to Gurdaspur and they can not be shifted to a jail there without hearing them.
The top court, which had been monitoring the case that had triggered nationwide outrage, asked the litigants to approach the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the future.
The Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir governments have been asked to ensure safety of the trial court judge in Pathankot and the special public prosecutor in the case respectively. Pathankot and Gurdaspur are about 40 km from each other.
The Jammu and Kashmir police have also been directed to file a supplementary charge-sheet within eight weeks. Advocates who are related to the case and no one else will be allowed for the in-camera proceedings, the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.
The eight-year-old girl from a minority nomadic community had disappeared from near her home in Rasana village close to Jammu's Kathua on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.
The charge-sheet filed by the state police said that the child was kidnapped, drugged, starved and gang-raped for a week before her head was smashed with a stone. The police said the assault was an attempt to push out a nomadic Muslim community from Hindu majority areas of Jammu.
In May, the Supreme Court accepted the family's appeal to shift the case to Pathankot after the matter triggered a backlash in the Hindu-majority Jammu. It directed day-to-day in-camera trial in the case. Rallies were held to show support for the accused, which even drew a couple of BJP ministers. They had to step down later.
Protests were held even at the premises of the Jammu court, with lawyers barring entry to the police, who had gone to file a charge-sheet.
Deepika Rajawat, the advocate representing the child's family, said she faced threats from members of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, who wanted her to drop the case. The association denied the allegation.
After the top court disposed of the case, Ms Rajawat said she was satisfied with proceedings and welcomed the transfer of the accused to Gurdaspur prison. "We still have a long battle to fight," she said.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has submitted its investigation and trial report and appealed to the court that it shouldn't be made public.