SHIMLA: The CBI arrested eight Himachal Pradesh policemen, including an inspector general, on Tuesday for the custodial death of a key accused in the brutal rape and murder of a school girl in Kotkhai in Shimla district on July 4.
The CBI’s action in arresting a large number of cops, including senior IPS officer Zahoor Zaidi, for custodial death is a rare instance. Also arrested was deputy superintendent of police Manoj Joshi.
They have been arrested for the death of Nepalese labourer Suraj Singh in the Kotkhai police station lock-up on July 18. At the time, it was alleged that he had been brutally beaten up and murdered by another accused Rajender Singh. Rajender and Suraj were among six accused arrested for the rape and murder of a minor girl on July 4. The girl’s severely injured body was recovered from a forest on July 6, leading to widespread protests in Shimla. Zaidi was head of the special investigation team (SIT) formed by the state to probe the rape and murder. Joshi was initially probing the case before the SIT took over.
After the custodial death and widespread protests, Zaidi was shifted from IG (southern range, Shimla) to IG (welfare and administration).
The eight arrests, made on charges of custodial death, come at a time when the Kotkhai case has become a political issue ahead of assembly elections in the hill state. Many people have alleged that there was an attempt to shield the real culprits and that there was an attempt to destroy evidence as well. The state government and senior police officers have, however, denied all allegations.
On the directions of the Himachal Pradesh high court, the CBI had registered a case on July 22 and started the probe. Sources said during the probe, Dinesh Sharma, a policeman who was on sentry duty on the night of July 18, had said Suraj was not killed in the lock-up as he had not heard any noise. He also denied seeing Rajender and Suraj clash in the lock-up.
While protesting outside the state assembly on August 23, members of Gudiya Nyay Manch, which has been demanding justice for the girl’s family, had demanded that Suraj’s statement be recorded before a magistrate. They had also demanded that sentry Dinesh Sharma, who had deposed before the CBI, be provided police protection. While HP DGP Somesh Goyal could not be contacted for his comments, leader of opposition Prem Kumar Dhumal claimed that attempts were being made to destroy evidence. “With the arrest of eight police officers, the CBI investigation is going in the correct direction and will provide justice to ‘Gudiya’,” he said.
Gudiya Nyay Manch co-convener Vijender Mehra said the arrest of police officers indicated that the police’s role in the investigation was suspect. “We have been alleging connivance of police with the real accused and arrest of police officials has proved us right,” he said. The others arrested include then SHO of Kotkhai Rajinder Singh, ASI Deep Chand Sharma, constable Ranjit Streta and three constables — Surat Singh, Mohan Lal and Rafiq Ali.