Locals in Assam's Biswanath district protested against the bail release of nine juveniles in an alleged rape-and-murder case of a 12-year-old girl.
They added that lapses in the police investigation combined with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic led to the accused being released a few months ago, with the boys even going on to apply for admissions to college.
The incident took place on February 28 when the victim found her missing near their house at a village near Gohpur. The next day, her body was found hanging from a tree in a nearby forest.
The victim's family alleged that she was kidnapped by a few boys who studied in the same school as her. The police picked up nine accused and sent them to a juvenile home in Jorhat district.
But one of the boys was granted bail on May 23; the rest a few days later.
The victim's family has accused the police of trying to hush up the matter because the accused belong to rich families.
“We will go to the police and register the case for a second time. We are poor but we will fight," the aunt of the accused said.
“The family members of the accused are trying to establish the girl’s murder as suicide even though medical reports clearly said she was raped," said Hemjit Patgiri, Secretary of Takam Mising Porin Kebang (TMPK), a local tribal organisation.
He added that the accused were released on bail because of the coronavirus outbreak. The police on its part said it submitted the charge-sheet within the stipulated 90 days.
TMPK has even called upon colleges in the district and beyond to not give admissions to the accused -- all of whom cleared their Class 10 exams held in February -- till they are cleared of the charges against them.
"Their free movement is dangerous for other students and the society at large,” said headmaster Madhab Patgiri, Headmaster of Rajabari Pathar Lower Primary School where the accused and victim studied.
He added that the some of the accused may not even be minors.
While the accused have been out on bail for months, the lack of action against them has galvanised locals into seeking justice for the victim. A conglomerate of eight Schedule Caste and tribal organisations in Gohpur had organised a protest demonstration on July 12.
“We are not happy with the way the police handled the case and the sluggishness of the local court. People have been protesting for the past few days, demanding justice for the girl and her family,” said Bipul Hira, secretary of the Gohpur unit of All Assam Scheduled Caste Students’ Union.
The Gohpur unit of Mising Welfare Society has also written to the Chief Minister on two occasions - on March 25 and July 28, demanding that the judicial process be fast-tracked so that the “culprits can be punished (hanged) without mercy within a stipulated time”.
(With inputs from Palash Phukon)