In connection with the infamous Shimla Gangrape and Murder Case, The CBI had registered two FIRs in line with the directions of the Himachal Pradesh High Court. The two FIRs pertained to gang rape and murder of the minor school girl and the subsequent custodial death of one of the accused.
Ironically while the CBI has been silent on the main case of the brutal “Nirbhaya” type rape and murder of the minor 16 year old girl, the agency went ahead and arrested the top officers of Himachal Pradesh police in the custodial death of Suraj Singh, the 29-year-old co-accused who died in police custody at Kotkhai.
Those arrested include the then top officer of Southern Range, IG Zahur Haidar Zaidi, DSP Manoj Joshi, the then SHO of Kothai Rajinder Singh, ASI Deep Chand Sharma, two head constables and one constable.
CBI sources say IG Zahur Haidar Zaidi and other police officers have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the custodial murder of Suraj Singh. The officers however reiterate, whether or not they were involved in custodial death will be established during the probe.
While many expressed satisfaction at the arrest of the Police Officials, there were some who questioned the appropriateness of arresting the IGP of the State. While the custodial death happened at the Police Station level, suspending the SHO and the policemen directly handling the arrested suspects does make sense to some extent, but arresting an Inspector General of Police of the State seems going overboard to rope in the Officer. This is akin to demanding PM’s resignation for some wrong committed by a State MLA citing moral obligation, which is, in a way far too stretching and a bit non-sensical.
It may be noted that during the probe of the July 4 rape and murder case, the state police had taken custody of six suspects who were lodged at the local police station. Suraj Singh, a 29 year old labourer from Nepal, was allegedly killed by a co-accused at the Kotkhai police station last month.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE:
The 16-year-old school girl belonged to a poor family of Hilaila village under Kotkhai Tehsil of Shimla district. She would travel more than five kilometers to reach her school where she studied in the 10th standard. Her brother would accompany her usually, as the path meandered through a thick forest.
On July 4, her brother did not accompany her as he was attending a sports meet. The victim left the school alone to her home. She met Raju, a neighbour, who offered her a lift in his vehicle. According to the police, other four accused are Suraj Singh, Subash Singh Bisht, Lokjan alias Chottu and Deepak alias Deepu. All were drunk. The accused according to the police stopped the vehicle in the middle of the forest and dragged the victim from the vehicle and raped her along with the labourers.
The family members informed the police when the victim did not return home. Victim’s body was spotted by her uncle after two days in the forest. The victim’s family members tell a tale of spine-chilling torture which was meted out to the school girl.
“There were cigarette burn scars on her body. She was bitten over lips, cheek, breasts. A leg and an arm had fractures. She was subjected to inhuman treatment before she was murdered,” victim’s uncle and sister said.
Eyewitnesses said the victim bore scratch marks on her back, which proves she was thrown inside a pit after being killed. There are also allegations that the post-mortem report finds a very little mention of torture in it. Victim’s mother refused to buy the state police theory and said, the actual perpetrators were roaming freely and the police was out trying to hush-up the case by merely arresting five labourers.
“The accused are roaming freely. The police has failed to arrest the actual perpetrators. The police first said it was a high profile case. But, when the people mounted pressure they arrested four labourers and a local, after 10 days. Had it been a high profile case, then why did it take 10 days to arrest two Nepalese and two Uttarakhand labourers. Were these labourers waiting for their arrest? This clearly shows that the police is hiding something,” victim’s mother had said.
Victim’s family then had refused to accept the police theory of murder and rape. The family hoped that the CBI will do justice to the victim.
“We fear that the police may destroy the evidence. We trust CBI which is a national agency which will bring the truth forward. It’s almost 20 days. The police has failed to arrest the actual offenders. Those arrested are also not safe. This shows that the police is trying to hide something. The persons arrested are not the ones whose photos were released on social media. That’s why we demanded a CBI probe, so that they do not spoil the evidences,” says victim’s mother.
In a new twist to the case, one of the co-accused, Suraj Singh, 29, who was under police remand, was found dead inside the Kotkhai police station lock-up on 18th July. Preliminary reports suggested that that the prime accused Rajinder Singh alias Raju attacked him. The incident took place around midnight. According to Police, accused Raju caught Suraj from his private part and hit him on the floor.
While the parents of the girl had already shown little faith in the police investigations, the death of Suraj Singh further worsened the matters as it all started taking a political turn.
With elections to the State Assembly barely a few months away, the opposition BJP took full advantage and played up the custodial death of the co-accused Suraj Singh, setting up protests in other parts of the district and the State demanding the Congress government’s dismissal.
Hundreds of protestors attacked Kotkhai police station. Not only stones were pelted and police vehicles burnt, but one portion of the police station too was set on fire. As a result, an FIR of unlawful assembly was registered against eight people at Theog police station in connection with nearly 150 people blocking traffic on National Highway-5 on 22 July 2017.
With the State government on the back foot, Chief Minister Virbhadr Singh ordered transfers and administrative action against the SHO and his team over the death of the co-accused Suraj Singh.
The State Youth Congress President, Vikramaditya Singh, in a statement said that the BJP was trying to take political mileage by playing with the sentiments of people. He alleged that BJP leaders were involved in stone pelting and destroying government properties. He said that if any person had some clue and proof of this incident, he or she should inform the police or CBI, so that justice could be delivered in this case.
Singh further said that the police had started a probe immediately after the tragic incident and when people were not satisfied with police investigation, chief minister wrote a letter to the Union government, demanding a CBI inquiry in the case. He said that after seeing the lackluster attitude of the Centre, the state government had to knock the door of the high court.
The Himachal High Court directed the CBI to form a SIT, to not only probe the gangrape and murder case of the minor but also the murder of one of the co-accused inside the police lockup. Court also directed the CBI to probe the role played by the officers, officials, functionaries of the state, in connection thereof.
The court also directed that record pertaining to the investigation conducted so far by the SIT constituted by the state be handed over to the CBI SIT. Incidentally, it was IGP Zahur Haidar Zaidi who was heading the State SIT and he handed over the progress and docs of investigation conducted by him and his team to the incoming CBI SIT.
Within hours of the state high court entrusting the investigation of the case to CBI, the state government transferred Inspector General of Police (IGP), Zahur H Zaidi, who was heading the Special Investigation Team and Additional SP Bhajan Dev Negi who was the member of SIT along with Shimla SP D W Negi.
Their transfer orders were issued at late night on 19 July 2017. Zaidi who was posted as IGP, Southern Range at Shimla, has been posted as IGP, Welfare and Administration at police headquarter at Shimla. IGP, Central Range at Mandi, was been given the additional charge of IGP Southern Range.
All The arrested officials would be produced before a court tomorrow, the agency said.