The bail application of main accused Sanji Ram, sentenced to undergo a life imprisonment for the rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomad girl in Kathua, has been posted for hearing on February 24 by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The application came up for hearing on Thursday before a division bench of justices Tejinder Singh Dhindsa and Lalit Batra through video conferencing during which the counsel for Jammu and Kashmir RS Cheema requested for a new date that was granted.
Sanji Ram had moved an application under section 389 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) before the High Court. Under this provision, an accused can approach the court for suspension of his sentence pending an appeal.
Sanji Ram was given a life term till his last breath by a sessions court of Pathakot that described it as a "devilish and monstrous crime".
"There are various lacunas in the investigations conducted by the prosecution agency as well as in the statements recorded during trial court," the petition of Ram claimed while seeking relief.
Sanji Ram, the mastermind and caretaker of the 'devasthanam' (temple) where the crime took place in January 2018, Deepak Khajuria, a Special Police Officer, and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian -- the three main accused -- were given life term.
Three other policemen were sentenced to five-year imprisonment for cover up and destruction of evidence while Sanji Ram's son Vishal was acquitted.
"In the present case, facts are many but truth is one that under a criminal conspiracy, an innocent eight-year-old minor girl has been kidnapped, wrongfully confined, drugged, raped and ultimately murdered. The perpetrators of this crime have acted in such a manner as if there is a 'law of jungle' prevalent in the society," sessions judge at Pathankot Tejwinder Singh had said in his order in June 2019.
Holding that perpetrators of the gangrape acted as if there is a "law of jungle" prevalent in the society, Singh had summed up the enormity of the crime with a touching couplet by Mirza Ghalib which says "Pinha tha daam-e-sakht qareeb ashiyaan ke, udhne hi nahi paye the ki girftar hum hue" (hunters had placed the net near a nest and the young one was caught before it could take its first flight).
In his judgment after hearing arguments from both sides for 367 days, the judge had termed in his 432-page judgment the crime as "devilish and monstrous" committed in the most "shameful, inhumane and barbaric manner" for which "poetic justice" needs to be done to its perpetrators.
"The circumstantial evidence led by the prosecution is definite which unerringly points out towards the guilt of the accused. The circumstances taken cumulatively from a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability that the crime was committed by the accused and none else.
"The circumstantial evidence is complete in itself and is incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis that the guilt of the accused and such evidence is consistent with the guilt of the accused," the judge said, adding that the circumstantial evidence led by the prosecution has to be given "due weightage in the case".
The Punjab and Haryana High court had in December last year suspended sentence of former sub-inspector Anand Dutta and former head constable Tilak Raj and released them on bail pending an appeal. Both of them had been sentenced for five years for destruction of evidence.
Mohammed Yusuf, who had adopted the eight-year-girl, and the Mohammed Akhthar, biological father of the victim, had reacted to the developments saying that their plea for challenging the acquittal of Vishal and enhancement of sentence was pending with the court while the accused were getting bail.
The 15-page charge sheet filed in April 2018 said the girl was kidnapped on January 10 that year and was raped in captivity in a small village temple, exclusively manned by Ram, after keeping her sedated for four days. She was later bludgeoned to death, it had said.
Mohammed Yusuf had claimed that efforts were being made to dilute the case to the extent that all the culprits were out.
"When the accused are out on bail, I fear that one day I will be booked under some frivolous charge and thrown into jail. They are very powerful people.
"Already rumours have started doing rounds that the case was going to be re-investigated by the CBI and all the accused will be out on bail," he had said.
The case triggered a nationwide outrage when the girl was found murdered on January 17, 2018. After initial hiccups, the case was handed over to the crime branch on January 27 of the same year which unraveled the conspiracy behind the heinous crime where the little girl was kidnapped and brutally raped for four days before being killed in a barbaric manner.
The Supreme Court in 2018 directed the case to be shifted out of Jammu and Kashmir and directed the sessions court in Pathankot to hear it on a daily basis.