Taking a serious view of the “tyranny of well-placed accused persons over the criminal justice system”, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of Vikas Yadav, son of former MP D P Yadav, his cousin Vishal Yadav and employee Sukhdev for the murder of Nitish Katara in 2002.
“We are satisfied that the broad features of the case established by the prosecution, the testimony of the witnesses, the documentary evidence provided on record, the convincing array of facts which are indisputable, as well as the conduct of the appellants unerringly converge to only one conclusion that may be reasonably drawn, namely, that the appellants are guilty,” held the court of Justice Gita Mittal and Justice J R Midha in an over 1,000-page order.
The court also held that the murder of Nitish Katara would fall under the judicial definition of “honour killing” and that honour killing is a “class of offence by itself”.
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“Its motivation stems from a deeply entrenched belief in the caste system and is completely unacceptable. It needs serious examination as to why such murders are not categorised as separate offences in the penal provision,” the court said.
The court will now hear arguments on a plea filed by Nitish’s mother Neelam Katara for enhancement of sentence of the three accused on April 25.
The trial court had awarded life imprisonment to the trio, while Neelam has demanded death for the three convicts.
Nitish, who had reportedly been in a relationship with Yadav’s sister Bharti, was killed and burnt on the intervening night of February 16-17, 2002. The accused were held guilty on the basis of a chain of circumstantial evidence — starting from the motive of honour killing as they opposed the relationship between Bharti and Nitish, to the fact that Nitish was last seen alive in their company. The court also observed that the brothers had “deliberately misled” the police in recovery of the Tata Safari used by them.
The court has also looked into the various instances of intimidation of witnesses by the “powerful” family of the accused and observed that a serious view should be taken of accused who influence witnesses and mislead police.
“The time has come that an inference needs to be drawn against the accused persons who deliberately mislead investigators; suborn witnesses; destroy evidence; win over crucial witnesses; protract the trial so that crucial evidence is lost or forgotten…,” the court said.
It also noted that the accused had done “their utmost to browbeat the special public prosecutors during the trial as well to prevent them from discharging their duties”.
“The instant case is a prime example of the tyranny of well-placed accused persons over the criminal justice system and how they treat the complainant, the investigation agency, the prosecution as well as the trial court,” the court said.
The court in its judgment also observed that Bharti was also intimidated and hidden away by her family. It said there was a need to look into protecting the women who had lost their partner to such incidents as “a victim of honour killing”.
”The right to choose your life partner or whom you associate with is a fundamental right, an integral part of the right to life…,” the court said.
“Should not every woman, or girl, whose freedom to choose her partner is so taken away by any person, be treated as a victim of the crime of honour killing as well? Such a woman is left to face the criticism and ill-treatment of her family and caste, defenceless and alone. It is high time that such women are afforded similar protection as are being provided to victims of other kinds of violence,” the court said.