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Asifa rape and murder case: Bakarwal community protests in Anantnag, family of accused demands CBI probe

The gruesome gangrape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa Bano by six-eight men, who had held her in captivity in a small village temple in Kathua district for a week in January, continues to haunt Jammu and Kashmir.

Amidst the recent spurt in violence in Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Wednesday met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and discussed with him the security situation in the state and how to bring back normalcy.

An FIR was also registered against lawyers who attempted to prevent the police from filing chargesheet in the case.

"Modi should change his slogan from 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' to 'BJP se beti bachao, beti ke pita ko bachao'. No woman is safe under his rule, be it in Unnao or Kathua. Helpless victims are crying for justice, and the government is busy protecting the culprits," Congress general secretary in charge of communications Randeep Singh Surjewala had said.

The Bakarwal community, to which the brutalized girl belonged, was on Thursday protesting in Anantnag. Union minister Uma Bharti reacted to the events following the case and said that people should not politicise the issue and give it a communal colour.

The family members of the accused, on the other hand, along with Hindu Ekta Manch members, also protested in Kathua and demanded a CBI probe.

The Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir Police has secured statements of 22 witnesses before a judicial magistrate.

A senior police official said that the statements had been recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code before a magistrate in which they gave details of the conspiracy hatched by accused Sanjhi Ram and others.

According to the laid down process, police approach a magistrate with request for recording the statement of a witness. After his or her production, the magistrate ensures that the statement is given according to the free will of the individual and the entire process is videographed.

In case the witness, who has registered the statement, turns hostile during trial, police can press perjury charges against him or her.

Two charge sheets were filed against eight accused under various sections of the Ranbir Penal Code (equivalent of IPC) related to rape, illegal confinement, destruction of evidence and criminal conspiracy.

The accused are Sanjhi Ram, his son Vishal, special police officers Deepak Khajuria and Surender Verma, head constable Tilak Raj, sub-inspector Anand Dutta, civilian Parvesh Kumar, and Sanjhi Ram's minor nephew.

On a day the Jammu High Court Bar Association (JHCBA) struck work demanding a CBI probe into the Kathua case, workers of the National Conference (NC) staged a march in Jammu on Wednesday, demanding exemplary punishment to those involved in the crime.

Led by former MLA Bimla Luthra, a group of mostly women activists took out the march from the party headquarters towards the civil secretariat, but were stopped by police after some distance, a party spokesperson said.

Accusing the PDP-BJP government for the "growing lawlessness" and for "failing to instill a sense of security among the people", Luthra demanded exemplary punishment to the guilty in the rape and murder case.

This brutal crime has polarised the normally peaceful town of Jammu, with the local Bar Association calling for a bandh against what it termed the "targeting of minority Dogras" while the state police lodged a case against lawyers who allegedly tried to prevent it from filing a chargesheet against the accused.

The high-profile case has even divided the state's polity, with at least two BJP ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government questioning the role of the police.

The victim, who belonged to the nomadic Bakarwal Muslim community, had disappeared from near her home in the forests next to Rasana village in Kathua, 90 kms from Jammu, on 10 January.

A week later, her body was found in the same area, and medical examination pointed towards sexual assault.

During initial investigations, police arrested a juvenile. Later, the case was transferred to Jammu and Kashmir Police's Crime Branch with clear instructions from Director General of Police SP Vaid to catch the culprits, no matter how high and mighty.

Two special police officers (SPOs) ? Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar ? and later, another five persons, including former revenue official and the alleged conspirator, Sanji Ram (60), who surrendered before the special investigation team, were among those arrested.

The Crime Branch team, which submitted a set of two charge sheets, faced a tough time when local lawyers allegedly tried to prevent them from filing the documents before the court.

On Tuesday, the police filed an FIR against a group of lawyers. "An FIR has been lodged against a group of lawyers who held protests and tried to prevent the Crime Branch officials from performing their duty," a senior police official said.