Kathua rape case: After Mehbooba Mufti, Maneka Gandhi seeks death penalty for raping minors and vows POCSO amendment

Amid rising tensions in Jammu and Kashmir over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua district, there is a rising national consensus for exemplary punishment for the culprits. While Union minister Maneka Gandhi has said that her ministry will bring an amendment in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act on death penalty for rape of children below 12 years of age, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has assured that that her government will bring a "new law" on the same lines.

"The Ministry of Women and Child Development intends to bring an amendment in POCSO Act asking for death penalty for rape on children below 12 years of age," Maneka has said in a video message.

Mufti assured that the state will bring in a law that would make death penalty mandatory for those who rape minors. "I assure that I stand committed not just to ensure justice for ***** but also seek exemplary punishment for those responsible for a crime whose brutal savagery has shamed humanity," she said on Twitter.

Jammu and Kashmir's ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has also directed all its ministers, legislators and senior leaders to be present for a special meeting on Saturday in Srinagar at 11 am, ANI reported.

India Today reported that the Kathua rape case will be the top agenda of the meet as Mufti is upset with the two BJP ministers — Forest Minister Lal Singh and Industries Minister Chander Prakash Ganga — who had reportedly gone to the place of agitation at Rasana in Kathua in March.

Speaking on the rape cases in Kathua and Unnao, Union information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani said that the law agencies and government are taking necessary action. "As a woman, I believe and request there should be no victim shaming," she said.

'Never thought we'd lose her to beasts'

The rape and murder case has kicked-off a national debate on the role of religion in the act. Speaking to The Indian Express, *****'s father Muhammad Yusuf Pujwala said, "She couldn’t tell her arms from her legs, couldn't tell which hand was right and which left. She never thought who was a Hindu, who a Muslim." The report quoted the mother as saying that they had wished to educate her and, later, get her married into a good home, but they had "never thought we would lose her to beasts before that." *****'s family was supposed to move towards Kashmir in May along with other nomads from their village.

But Pujwala — along with his wife, two children and livestock — abandoned his home late on Tuesday evening, only to surface at his brother Nisar Ahmad Khan's residence in Samba district. Khan told Firstpost that Pujwala did not want to leave his house but "felt insecure" living with his family, including his father and mother, at their home amid rising communal tensions in the district. Pujwala had adopted ***** after the death of his two daughters. His wife had asked Pujwala to adopt *****, who was Pujwala's brother's biological daughter.

Opposition questions Mehbooba, Rahul Gandhi holds protest 

Congress president Rahul Gandhi led a midnight protest by party workers at India Gate against the "slumber" of Narendra Modi government over the rape incidents in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua and Uttar Pradesh's Unnao. He said there were repeated incidents of violence, rape and murder of women in the country.

 Kathua rape case: After Mehbooba Mufti, Maneka Gandhi seeks death penalty for raping minors and vows POCSO amendment

Protests across India have demanded exemplary punishment for the culprits of Kathua rape and murder. Reuters

"We want the government to take action. Today, women are feeling insecure to move out of their houses. Somewhere a child, a woman is raped, killed and we want that the government should resolve this. The women of the country should feel safe," he said. Rahul stressed that it was a national issue and not a political one. "This is an issue concerning women," he said, adding that people from all parties as well as the common man were at India Gate.

Earlier on Thursday, Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) asked Mehbooba Mufti to come clean on the alleged involvement of two of her Cabinet ministers in instigating trouble in Kathua region. "The chief minister should clarify her stand on the involvement of two senior ministers instigating trouble in Kathua with regard to the brutal of *****," JKPCC chairman GA Mir said. He said both the ministers should have been sacked on day one for giving "communal colour" to the shameful act of rape and murder. "The inaction on part of the chief minister amounts to shielding them (ministers)," the Congress leader added.

Congress leader Ambika Soni called that the Kathua incident a "shame on our society". "It's taking so long to nab the culprits when everybody knows who they are and still you are not able to ply the processes of the law," Soni was quoted as saying by ANI.Meanwhile, BJP state president Nandkumar Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh alleged that there was an involvement of "Pakistani hand" in the alleged rape and murder.

"The act (Kathua rape-murder) must have been committed by Pakistan's agents to divide people by chanting Jai Shriram," Chouhan told reporters on Thursday. He was responding to reports that slogans of 'Jai Sriram' were raised following the incident.

"Hindus are less than one percent in Kashmir. They cannot even open their mouths, then how can they shout these slogans?" he asked.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, however, lashed out at the chief minister for not taking any action against two BJP ministers who had attended a rally.

Jammu and Kashmir appoints two Sikh prosecutors

The Jammu and Kashmir government appointed two special public prosecutors on Thursday for the trial. Meanwhile, the family members of the victim, *****, silently abandoned their home in Rasana village. The state police crime branch — which probed the alleged rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl belonging to the nomadic Muslim Bakerwal community — had filed the main charge sheet against seven accused persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district earlier this week.

The government appointed Jammu crime branch's chief prosecuting officer S Bhopinder Singh, and Samba's chief prosecuting officer Harinder Singh as special public prosecutors to pursue the cases against ex-revenue official Sanji Ram and the one involving the juvenile. "This was done to ensure speedy conduct and ensure focused attention on the case," a senior official told PTI.

DGP SP Vaid had written to the government in this regard by recommending two officers as SPPs to conduct the case. "We wanted two officers to pursue the case from the police department as others may take the case casually," another official said.

When asked whether two Sikh officers were engaged as SPPs to ensure "neutrality" in view of Hindu-Muslim polarisation over the case, DGP Vaid said, "Please do not think on religious lines. It has not been done. Police does not think in terms of Hindu or Muslim or Sikh".

The body of the girl, from the Bakerwal community, was recovered from Rassana forest on 17 January, a week after she went missing while grazing horses.

On 23 January, the government had handed over the case to the crime branch of the state police which formed a Special Investigation Team and arrested eight people including two Special Police Officers (SPOs) and a head constable, who was charged with destruction of evidence.

The Bar Association of Jammu (BAJ) has demanded a CBI probe into the case. Responding to queries from the general public in a Twitter broadcast, Vaid said on Thursday that the Jammu and Kashmir Police had no objection if the case was assigned to the CBI but it asserted that it is as competent as any investigation agency to handle it.

He justified the crime branch probe into the rape and murder of the Bakerwal girl. "If we can fight terrorism and stone pelters, why cannot the Jammu and Kashmir Police perform the professional duties of the investigation. Our officers go on deputation to the CBI," the DGP said. The police has arrested eight persons in the case.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Apr 15, 2018 22:26:13 IST