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'One strand of hair' proves key to probe

Police recount how link with Kathua prayer hall was established, draw distinction with temple

Deepika Singh Rajawat, the lawyer for the Kathua victim, comes out of the Supreme Court after filing a petition. Reuters

Srinagar: A police source has claimed the discovery of strands of the Kathua gang-rape-and-murder victim's hair inside the village prayer hall where the crime branch says she was held captive for days and repeatedly raped and tortured.

The families of the eight accused and the Hindu Ekta Manch, a group championing their cause, have dismissed the possibility that anyone could be held hostage and brutalised inside a "temple".

"We recovered several strands of hair inside the devasthan (prayer hall) in the presence of a magistrate," a senior crime branch officer told The Telegraph.

"None of them had a root (which is rich in genetic material, unlike the shaft) expect one. We sent it to a forensic laboratory in Delhi and it was established that it was the victim's. It proves the girl was held there."

He added: "We have a lot of oral evidence, which includes confessions by the accused, but this is a piece of scientific evidence we needed."

Manch members have accused the police of bias and are continuing with their demand for a CBI probe.

"It's impossible to hold someone captive and rape her for eight days in a temple which is always crowded and is situated in the middle of a street," says a widely circulated social media post, headlined: "Why lawyers in Kathua are demanding a CBI probe".

Prem Dogra, chief of the BJP's Kathua chief, endorsed the logic. "How is it possible that nobody saw them there?" he asked.

According to the chargesheet, the girl was starved and sedated for five days under a table and wrapped in a mat inside the devasthan. Sanjhi Ram, the alleged mastermind, is the temple's caretaker.

Deepak Khajuria, one of those arrested in connection with the case, arrives in a court in Kathua on Monday.

"Ram alone had the keys, and not several people, as they claim," the officer said.

"There's a difference between a temple and a devasthan, the later being a prayer hall built in memory of a sage by a family or a clan. It's opened for prayers only on a few occasions, and only they (the accused) entered it during the days she was held there."

He added: "Besides, it is located at an isolated place, away from habitations."

The girl was abducted on January 10 and her body was found a week later. The local police investigated the matter before the crime branch took over.

Ram, the investigators say, paid a bribe of Rs 4 lakh to the policemen involved in the initial investigation to hush matters up and destroy crucial evidence, for instance, by washing the girl's clothes. These cops are among the eight accused.

Initial investigations suggested that a purported minor, the first to be detained, had held the girl captive inside a cowshed. But the crime branch later said she had been detained at the devasthan.

'Truth' test sought

As the trial began on Monday, seven of the accused pleaded not guilty before district and sessions judge Sanjay Gupta in Kathua and volunteered for a narco-analysis (truth serum) test, PTI reported. The next hearing is on April 28.

The eighth accused, the juvenile, moved a bail application before the chief judicial magistrate, who posted the matter for April 26.

In a narco-analysis test, the subject is injected with sodium pentothal or sodium amytal, the dose depending on the person's sex, age, health and physical condition.

Such a test is not admissible as evidence unless a court has given permission to conduct it. The test helps as corroborative and not primary evidence, legal experts say.

As the trial began, Ram's daughter Madhu Sharma protested outside, demanding a CBI probe.

Madhu Sharma, the daughter of the main accused Sanjhi Ram, in Kathua on Monday. Reuters, PTI 

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