An accused in the murder and gangrape of a 16-year-old girl in Himachal Pradesh died in police custody, triggering outrage and violence that saw angry mobs pelt stones at a police station on Wednesday.
The accused, Suraj Singh, was strangulated by another suspect, Rajinder Singh, inside the lock-up on Tuesday night, police said.
News of his death sparked anger in Kotkhai, around 60 kilometres from state capital Shimla, as people shouted slogans and blocked national highways, forcing the police to cane protesters.
Shimla SP DW Negi said around midnight Rajinder murdered Suraj in a scuffle inside the lock-up of Kotkhai police station. “Suraj was rushed to hospital where he was declared brought dead,” said Negi.
The gangrape of the minor girl has rocked the hill state where such crimes are uncommon. The girl, a Class 10 student, went missing on her way home from school on July 4 and her naked body was found two days later. Since then, her photos have gone viral on social media as hundreds of people have come out on the streets to protest in candlelight marches, silent processions and road blockades. The state government also bowed to increasing public pressure and transferred the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Unrest over the case has been simmering since the police claimed a breakthrough on July 13, and arrested six people: Ashish Chauhan (29), Rajinder Singh (32) of Sharaal village, Subash Singh Bisht (42) of Pauri Garhwal, Surat Singh (29) of Nepal, Lok Jan (19) of Nepal and Deepak (38) of Garhwal. They were produced before a court in Theog and sent to seven-day police remand.
The entire staff of Kotkhai police station, including the station house inspector, were suspended following the custodial death. Sources said the SHO kept all six accused in two cells instead of keeping them in separate enclosures.
The incident has seen massive protests against the state government even in the Congress stronghold of Shimla as protesters called the investigation an “eyewash”. The outrage is also expected to singe the Virbhadra Singh government in elections scheduled for later this year as the opposition BJP is attempting to steer public anger against the government and police for going slow on the probe into the case.
Virbhadra, also the state’s home minister who is facing several cases of corruption, has come under criticism from even his own party men for the slow progress in the investigation.