WITH HER battle to get her son’s killers to justice reaching finality before the Supreme Court, Neelam Katara (64) spent most of Monday speaking to media and well wishers, decrying honour killings and musclemen-led politics.
Away from the cameras, Katara says that losing her son and the the long legal battle has left deep wounds. Her health, family life and finances took a back seat while she fought to get her son’s killers punished. She also jokes about whether she would need to ask for more security in the light of the judgment and the sharp remarks she has made against “corrupt” politicians.
“I have been saying all day that people with criminal background should not be given election tickets. Who knows if someone will come after me now for saying this,” she says.
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Nitish Katara was 23 when he was abducted and murdered by the three convicts as they were opposed to his relationship with Bharti, the sister of convict Vikas Yadav and daughter of Uttar Pradesh politician D P Yadav.
The Katara family was skeptical about the match, but never thought the affair would end like this. “We didn’t approve of the relationship but Nitish was sure he wanted to marry her. I said she is a very nice girl but she comes from a completely different background… but he was firm about his decision. My husband thought it would end in a while so we didn’t put our foot down. We never imagined they would do something like this,” says Katara.
Vikas Yadav (left) and Nitish Katara (right)
The family also had very little time to consider the issue as Nitish informed his parents about his relationship in December 2001. He was killed two months later, in February 2002. “Days after my son’s murder, people asked me why I allowed my son to befriend someone from such a family. How could we have imagined something like this would happen?” she says.
Katara says she hopes to continue fighting against honour killing. “There needs to be a law against honour killing. They say it is an issue of different castes or different religions but ultimately it is about patriarchy and crime against women. Patriarchy creates this issue of control over who one marries or has a relationship with,” she says.
The shock, says Katara, came when the then BJP government gave D P Yadav a Rajya Sabha ticket in 2004. “That was a frightening time,” says Neelam, who was recovering from losing her son and the death of her husband soon after.
Public support gave her courage. “The media picked up the issue and the BJP distanced themselves from him. That was the first time I thought I’m not alone, I can do this,” she says.
After the trial court in 2008 convicted Vikas and Vishal Yadav as well as Sukhdev Pehlwan in the murder, legal loopholes created fresh problems for Katara. 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. “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?” she says.
On the Supreme Court order, she says, “This is a milestone judgment.” She hopes that the punishment would “act as deterrent to others” who consider honour killing.
“Life imprisonment is a misnomer. In 14 years’ imprisonment, 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,” she says.
“People have said I neglected my younger son because of this case. He now works and lives abroad and never got married. Someone once said it was because of the case and because I didn’t have time for him,” she says, adding that her younger son has been a pillar of support through the years.