The trial in the gangrape and murder of an 8-year-old in Kathua, which triggered global condemnation, will be held in Punjab's Pathankot, the Supreme Court said today.
The call for transfer came from the child's family as the issue triggered a backlash in Jammu and Kashmir and rallies were held in favour of the accused.
"Fear and fair trial can't exist together," the top court said, adding it would monitor the trial. The horrific assault was an attempt to terrorise and push out a nomadic Muslim community from Hindu majority areas of Jammu, the police have said.
The 8-year-old was kidnapped from Kathua's Rasana village in January while she was grazing horses. For a week, she was drugged, starved and gangraped before her head was bashed in with a stone.
The eight accused include a couple of policemen and a juvenile. The chargesheet said one of the policemen asked the killer to wait so he could rape the girl for one last time.
Ordering that the trial be fast-tracked, the Supreme Court said proceedings will be held every day and there will be no adjournment. The trial will be closed to the press and the public, the top court said in its order.
The Supreme Court said the trial will be held according to the provisions of Ranbir Penal Code, which is applicable in Jammu and Kashmir.
The accused in the case have sought a CBI investigation, which is pending in Jammu and Kashmir High Court. Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, who was part of the three-judge bench hearing the case, however said, "No other court will hear any case on this issue as we are monitoring it".
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said, "Security is the main concern... we have adequate security in Pathankot".
Two days before the court's verdict, the child's mother told NDTV that she feared that the family will be murdered if the accused get released. "People in four villages are after our lives. We are only four people... everything is gone; our house, our entire property is gone... If there is no justice, shoot all four of us," she said.
The murder had triggered a backlash in Jammu. Rallies were held to show support for the accused, which was attended by two ministers. They had to step down later. The lawyers in Jammu held protests at court premises and stopped police officers from entering the court for hours to file the chargesheet.
Deepika Rajawat, the advocate representing the child's family, said members of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association had threatened her, demanding that she does not appear in the case. The association denied the allegation.
Earlier, the Bar Council of India gave a clean chit to the Jammu lawyers. After an on-the-ground investigation, it told the Supreme Court that the Jammu lawyers did not obstruct justice and their demand for a CBI investigation into the matter is "justified".