SC Confirms 25 Year Jail Term For Vikas In Katara Murder Case
Coming straight to the nub of the matter, let me begin by first and foremost talking about the landmark judgment which the Supreme Court has recently delivered. All fingers were crossed and everyone across the nation was keenly waiting to listen what would be the judgment in the famous Katara murder case which involved the son of a political heavyweight – DP Yadav. Speaking for myself, I too was waiting eagerly to hear what the judgment would be.
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, it must be brought out here that the Supreme Court said that, “Murdering a man in cold blood in the guise of brotherly or fatherly honour, and thus “eliminating” a woman’s choice of her life partner is a crime of extreme brutality”. There can be no justification whatsoever for it. Strictly speaking, it is worse than even terror killing because even terrorists don’t kill their own people but here they kill their own close blood relations just for the sake of protecting so called “brotherly or fatherly or some other honour”!
For my esteemed readers exclusive benefit, let me also reveal here that the Apex Court said that, “Honour was not the exclusive property of relatives who kill or assault the very man a girl in the family chooses to love.” It is most sickening to hear the use of the word “honour killing” in such cases. It is “false pride” and not “honour” which leads such relations to commit such ghastly acts that would shake even the hard core terrorist!
Stating that a woman’s “individual choice is her self-respect and creating a dent in it is (akin to) destroying her honour”, the Supreme Court on October 3, 2016 sentenced Vikas Yadav who had killed Nitish Katara for having an affair with his sister, to at least 25 years in jail without remission. It minced no words in saying that, “Her individual choice is her self-respect and creating a dent in it is destroying her honour. And to impose so called brotherly or fatherly honour or class honour by eliminating her choice is a crime of extreme brutality, more so, when it is done under a guise. It is a vice, condemnable and deplorable perception of ‘honour’, comparable to medieval obsessive assertions.” The observations came in a 93-page judgment. Vikas’s accomplice Sukhdev Pehlwan who was an employee of his father – DP Yadav who enjoys considerable political clout in UP was also handed a jail term of a minimum 20 years.
Let me hasten to add here that a Bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C Nagappan dismissed Vikas Yadav’s appeal against his jail term for a fixed period, defining killing for honour as “a facet of medieval obsessive assertions”. Both Vikas and Pehelwan were given an additional sentence of five years despite their respective longer jail terms of 25 and 20 years. But now the judgment directed all sentence to run concurrently.
In its judgment, the Bench concurred with the Delhi High Court that it was an act of “honour killing” and said that freedom, independence, constitutional identity, individual choice and thought of a woman could not be allowed to be curtailed by physical force or threat or mental cruelty. The Bench, maintaining the conviction pointed out that the crime was committed in a cold-blooded manner over some “unwarranted superiority based on caste feeling” which blinded the brothers to the fact that a sister has an equal right to make choices in life.
It is imperative to mention here that the murder of Nitish Katara who was an MBA graduate and the son of a senior Railway official, after being abducted from a marriage function in Ghaziabad in UP in February 2002 was considered an “honour killing” to stop his relationship with Vikas’s sister Bharti. The Bench of Apex Court said that it was the very factum of honour killing in the case that led the highest court to uphold the “harsh sentence” awarded by the Delhi High Court. The convicts cannot seek release through remission for the next quarter of a century.
Justice Dipak Misra described the duo – Vikas and Sukhdev in the judgment as “These are people who despite their good education, still live in the bygone centuries”. It was also observed by Justice Misra that, “One may feel ‘my honour is my life’ but that does not mean sustaining one’s honour at the cost of another. Neither the family members nor the members of the collective have any right to assault the boy chosen by the girl. Her individual choice is her self-respect and creating dent in it is destroying her honour.”
Be it noted, terming the Nitish Katara murder “planned and cold”, the Apex Court confirmed the High Court’s finding that the motive to kill the victim was drawn from “some kind of uncalled-for and unwarranted superiority based on court feelings.” It said the murder and ensuing brutality shown to the victim’s corpse was clearly a result of the “anger of the brother on the involvement of the sister with the deceased”. It also said that, “The circumstantial evidence by which the crime has been established clearly leads to one singular conclusion – that the anger of the brother , on the involvement of the sister with the deceased, was the only motive behind the crime.” Vikas and his accomplice Sukhdev would have to now spend many more years in jail.
The Apex Court recalled the criminal antecedents of Vikas Yadav and the fact that he was prosecuted in the celebrity bartender Jessica Lal murder case. It said the Nitish Katara murder was committed when Vikas was on bail in the Jessica Lal case. This itself is enough to show how much fear they have of law or of going to jail!
To put things in perspective, the Delhi High Court had sentenced Vikas to life imprisonment with a fixed term of 25 years without remission, and another five years for destroying evidence. It had maintained the terms shall run consecutively. The Apex Court, however, said that a person could not be first sentenced to life imprisonment and then be given additional punishment since life term would ordinarily mean till the end of one’s life. Therefore, the Bench said, the High Court order had to be modified to the extent that the sentences shall run concurrently.
The modification by the top court shall make Vikas eligible to seek remission from the state governments after serving 25 years in jail instead of 30 years as stipulated by the High Court. Similarly, Sukhdev can ask for reprieve after 20 years. The third convict in the case, Vikas’s cousin Vishal Yadav had not appealed against his conviction and sentence. Vishal would, therefore, remain incarcerated for at least 30 years unless he gets a similar order from the Apex Court.
Let me point out here that the mother of Nitish – Neelam Katara said that the court has “quantitatively” reduced five years of punishment, which was earlier supposed to be run consecutively for destruction of evidence, but she would be justified even if she sought an additional 10 years imprisonment for the killers. She lamented that, “By destruction of evidence, we are not talking about shoes or slippers. They destroyed my son’s body.” It may be recalled here that after kidnapping Nitish Katara in 2002, the cousins of Bharti Yadav – Vikas Yadav and Vishal Yadav had doused the victim’s body with diesel and set him ablaze.
Let me also bring out here that Vikas will also have to pay a fine of Rs 50 lakh, out of which Rs 25 lakh and Rs 5 lakh shall be disbursed to the governments in Delhi and UP, respectively, towards investigation and prosecution in the case. Rs 20 lakh shall be given to Neelam Katara as costs incurred by her in relentlessly pursuing the matter. Neelam called the Apex Court verdict her “biggest victory” and applauded the Bench for upholding a jail term beyond 14 years without remission.
She said, “We wanted the death penalty for the convicts but I am still satisfied that the court acknowledged that it was not a normal murder but an honour killing by rich people drunk on power.” She said that, “This is a milestone judgment. Life imprisonment is a misnomer. In 14 yearsimprisonment, criminals get out of jail even earlier on remission and keep coming out on parole. This judgment of 25 years without remission will be a deterrent.”
But she also complained in the same breath by adding that, “There is no implementation of the laws, that’s why the rich and influential people are not scared. Am I supposed to spend my life filing RTIs about whether they are out on parole again?” Requests for parole for the three convicts before the Delhi High Court led to the revelation, via RTI, that the Yadavs had been going in and out of prison for “hospital visits” and “court dates” which stretched far beyond what the rules allow after the trial court in 2008 convicted them in the Nitish murder case .
The Apex Court also said that the “criminal proclivity” of Vikas and the other accused was demonstrable in the manner they destroyed Nitish’s body by burning it after killing him with a hammer. It also added that, “They have neither the respect for human life nor did they have any concern for the dignity of a dead person. They had deliberately comatosed the feeling that even in death, a person has dignity, and when one is dead, (he) deserves to be treated with dignity. That is the basic human right. The brutality that has been displayed by the accused persons clearly exposes the depraved state of mind.” Let us not forget that during Kargil war in 1999 when Pakistan disowned thousands of soldiers of Northern Light Infantry Regiment who were killed by Indian soldiers, it was India which ensured that they all got a decent burial!
All said and done, it is the inordinately long time taken in deciding the case that affects victims families the most. It has taken 14 long years in such a high profile case like the Nitish Katara to be finally decided by the Supreme Court. What happens when a poor person fights his/her case against powerful offenders is anybody’s guess! This must change if the reputation of our judiciary is to be enhanced and the faith of the common man is to be restored in it! There must be proper coordination between the forensic laboratories and the police. There must be proper forensic processes and police cops must desist from any such action which leads to the tampering of evidence. The whole place where crime is committed must be sealed promptly and no one not even police cops themselves should do anything that would affect the evidence in any manner! Also, the testing processes must be expedited! This landmark judgment is a clear reminder to all those who think of themselves as being very high and powerful that, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you”! No denying this!