The parents of a Guernsey backpacker killed in Kashmir fear the trial of her alleged murderer may collapse or face interminable delays after Indian prime minister Narendra Modi stripped the state of Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status.
Sarah Groves, 24, a fitness instructor who went to St Mary’s School, Ascot and Chelsea College of Art, was stabbed 46 times and found in a pool of blood on her bed on a houseboat on Dal Lake on 6 April 2013.
Sarah had gone to India on a round-the-world trip in November 2012 and fallen in love with a Kashmiri man Samir Shoda who persuaded her to live with him on his family houseboat.
A Dutch tourist Richard De Wit staying on the same houseboat was charged with murder. He has been held in Srinagar Central Jail for over six years but denies the charges. The 165th and 166th hearing of his trial in Srinagar was scheduled on Monday and Tuesday.
Sarah’s parents Victor and Kate have been unable to make contact with their legal counsel all week owing to a complete lockdown in Kashmir where phone, cable TV and Internet services have been suspended, a curfew imposed and thousands of troops deployed.
“We presume the court hearings were cancelled. We have had no contact whatsoever with anyone in Kashmir and so we can’t get any legal opinion about what is happening so we are in the dark,” said Mr Groves. “We have no further dates for the future and we don’t know if there is a future.”
“Jammu and Kashmir no longer exists as a state," Mr Groves added. He has written to the foreign office seeking clarification as to whether the case will continue.
“Even the British High Commission in Delhi cannot reach anyone in Kashmir,” he said. “Is the trial able to continue under Kashmiri law?
"Because from now on the laws of India have to prevail in Kashmir. It would be so difficult to restart the case under the Indian legal system because so many exhibits were lost in the 2014 Kashmir floods which washed away virtually everything from the court house."
"Will the Indian prosecution service consider it as a strong enough case and think they stand a reasonable chance of gaining a conviction? They may well see it differently from the Kashmiris. Can De Wit continue to be held with no end in sight?” he said.
An FCO spokesperson said staff were seeking more information from the Indian authorities.
Arvind Kumar, an Indian criminal lawyer, said he thought the trial would continue under the Indian Penal Code from where it left off, rather than the Ranbir Penal Code, which has been dissolved.
But he predicted huge delays owing to ongoing turmoil in Kashmir where the change in legal status has led to enhanced fears of terror attacks and law and order problems.
"I imagine court cases in Kashmir will get even slower over the next few months," Mr Kumar said.
“We are six and a half years since the tragedy. I don’t want it to collapse and I don’t want it to be an unsafe verdict. Either way we are faced with further delays. We are very upset we are not moving towards some sort of conclusion,” Mr Groves said, who has flown to Kashmir six times to watch the proceedings and shelled out tens of thousands of pounds on costs and legal fees.
“We cannot keep going as it is so expensive and there is more than an even chance nothing will happen when we get there,” he said.
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