Back in the mid-90s, when I was still a kid, I saw many Bollywood flicks having more or less similar format: a middle class boy and a rich girl fall in love and pledge to spend whole life together. While the boy’s family is open minded, has no objection with this relationship and agrees to accept the girl as their daughter-in-law, the girl’s father is a donor some sort of Don (often named Signhaniya), disapproves their relation. And when the love birds deny dismissing their love even after facing an array of threats, girl’s badass brother kills the boy in rage. And hence starts the series of battles for justice, against the manipulative and corrupt system, and a battle for survival.
Well, what if I say something alike happened in reality? And the judiciary kept on giving ‘taareekh pe taareekh, taareekh pe taareekh, taareekh pe taareekh’ and the fight for justice longed fourteen years?
When some of our shameless politicians were busy questioning the authenticity of surgical strikes on PoK and storming the nation with their flub dub statements, a mother was still fighting a battle to bring justice to her son. And guess what – she won!
I bet no one of you has been left unheard about the popular “Nitish Katara murder case”. However, it would not be wrong to pronounce this case as another incident of “honor killing”, which is nothing new in our country, but the case gathered so much coverage just because an unforgiving – unbreakable mother didn’t let her son’s convicts slip easily.
It all started like this:
The MBA graduate and a year old business executive in Delhi, Nitish Katara, was in love with her classmate Bharti Yadav, who comes from a criminal-political family. Bharti’s father, DP Yadav – the ‘unrivalled’ don of Uttar Pradesh, is already accused of killing 9 people and 350 others in a bootlegging incident. The Yadav family is believed to be one of the richest political families of UP.
Nitish Katara and Bharti Yadav were an established couple; they had been seeing each other for over four years. Their relationship was no secret but was strongly opposed by Yadav family for some reasons. The never liked Nitish, but even after continuous threats, they could not deter the duo from dating each other.
On the night of February 16, 2002, Nitish and Bharti were attending a common friend’s wedding, where Bharti’s brother, Vikas and a cousin – Vishal, mother, and sister were present as well. From there, Nitish Katara was taken for a drive by Bharti’s brother Vikas and cousin Vishal Yadav, and never returned.
After the wedding, four people remembered seeing Vikas Yadav and his cousin Vishal Yadav take Nitish into their Tata Safari SUV. His friends thought he would be returning soon, but when they had not returned till well past midnight.
Bharat Divakar, who had accompanied Nitish Katara to the wedding in a taxi, went to their house. Nitish’ mother Neelam Katara opened the door. She immediately called Bharti. It turned out that Bharti herself was trying to find out Nitish’s whereabouts, and was quite tense herself. She asked Neelam “to go to the police, adding that maybe her brothers — Vikas and Vishal — had taken Nitish to Punjab”. Bharti is thought to have called her sister Bhawna Yadav, whose registered cell phone number was used all night to call many friends of Bharti and Nitish Katara, as well as Neelam.
Bharti also gave Neelam her father’s number, and after a fruitless visit to the police, at in the morning, Neelam called D. P. Yadav, who did not know where Vikas or Nitish might be.
Next day, Bharti Yadav wrote an email to Nitish’s brother, accusing his father and brother of conspiring against Nitish.
The following morning, his body was found by the highway; he had been battered to death with a hammer, diesel poured on him, and set aflame. Nitish’s body was identified by the wrist watch that Bharti had gifted him.
Nitish Katara’s mother Neelam Katara accused Vikas and Vishal of murdering her son, and hence the game of twists and turns started. Here is a timeline of the case:
February 16-17, 2002: Vikas and Vishal Yadav allegedly abduct Nitish Katara from a wedding of his classmate Shivani Gaur in Ghaziabad on the night of February 16, 2002. They allegedly kill Nitish for his intimacy with Bharti Yadav.
February 20: The burnt body of Nitish Katara is found near Hapur crossing in a village Khurja in Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh. The Police find Vikas and Vishal as the immediate suspects. Bharti quietly leaves for London.
March 2002: The Tata Safari, which was used in the murder, is recovered from GT Road, Karnal. The UP Police files a four-page charge sheet in the murder case against Vishal and Vikas Yadav.
April2002: The police arrest both the accused Vikas and Vishal from Madhya Pradesh and records their confession. However, under cross-examination, the inspector changed his stand saying the accused persons made no confessional statements in his presence. Also, the UP cops refrained producing the recorded confession in which both detailed the whole episode of killing Nitish Katara.
November 2002: Court frames charges against the accused in the murder case. A separate trial starts against the third accused in the case, Sukhdev Pehalwan – a hired contract killer, who was on the run and got arrested in 2005.
April 2003: First summon issued for Bharti by the court requiring her presence for recording her statement.
May 2006: NDTV news channel managed to obtain the tape and broadcast it. In this confession, Yadav admitted to taking Katara from the party, murdering him, and burning the body. Although, this confession was not formulated before the magistrate.
August 23, 2006: The Supreme Court directs transfer of Nitish Katara murder case from a Ghaziabad sessions court to a competent court of the same jurisdiction in Delhi when mother of the victim, Neelam Katara, appealed that she feared miscarriage of justice in Ghaziabad, citing DP Yadav, father of Bharti Yadav, of being an influential – ruffian politician of western UP.
All the key witnesses had already turned hostile and withdrew their initial statements, except for one.
November 25, 2006: After three years of notice and summons, the prime witness in the murder case Bharti Yadav returns to India when the court threatens to declare her a proclaimed offender. However, in her initial testimony, she denied having any romantic affair with Nitish Katra but accepted having sent him cards and gifts. She also denied having sent any emails to Nitish and his brother disowning the email-id.
December 2007: Prosecution wraps up their final arguments in the case and claims Bharti’s alleged proximity to Nitish is the cause for the murder of Nitish by Vikas and Vishal.
May 2008: Trial court finds both Vikas and Vishal guilty in Nitish Katara murder case and sentenced both the convicts to life term.
July 2008: Nitish’s mother Neelam Katara approaches Delhi High Court seeking the death penalty for Vikas and Vishal.
September 2008: Vikas and Vishal files appeal in the high court challenging the trial court verdict.
July 2011: Trial court convicts Sukhdev Pehalwan in the case and awards life imprisonment to Sukhdev.
April 2014: High court upholds the conviction of Vikas, Vishal, and Sukhdev, says it was a case of honor killing. High Court fixes Apr 25 to hear arguments on quantum of punishment.
December 2014: Delhi High Court reserves its verdict for punishment to be awarded to Vikas and Vishal Yadav.
February 2015: Vikas and Vishal Yadav awarded 25 years imprisonment without remission by Delhi High Court. Sukhdev Pehelwan gets life imprisonment for 20 years.
October 2015: Supreme Court rejects the plea by Nitish Katara’s mother Neelam Katara demanding death sentence for the convicts stating that it (the case) does not qualify as rarest of the rare, but a well-planned murder.
September 2016: Vikas Yadav appeals for his prison term to be reduced after serving 14 years in jail.
October 3, 2016: The Supreme Court rejects Vikas Yadav’s plea and upholds the jail term of minimum 25 years to Vishal & Vikas Yadav and a 20-year term to Sukhdev Pehalwan, without any remission.
Well, both accused were sent to jail immediately after charges were framed, but call it an irony or the loophole in our judicial system – Vikas Yadav was granted bail 66 times in the first two years of his incarceration, often with no clear reason documented.
66 times in two years – can you believe it! If there was some competition of this sort, Vikas Yadav would certainly hold a merit position. But this is not all – whilst out on a bail, Vikas Yadav was repeatedly getting involved in criminal activities, including involvement in Jessica Lall case, as well as absconding on two occasions.
GOSH! His dad would be so proud.
So, all was well in the end, the justice seemed served here.
Wait! Not quite. Not until we stop voting criminals as our leaders. If you are elevating a criminal to power and fame, you are not just raising him/her as a politician, but as an innocent too. And these innocent people later gets drunk on money & power and takes the liberty to play with law, and believes the judiciary to be their mistress. If you turn back the pages of history, you will find many alike cases where investigations were tempered and the judicial system was manipulated. Be it Nitish Katara case, Jessica Lall case, the hit and run case, or the killing of black buck. If you have money and power in your pockets, you are not supposed to be guilty!
But kudos to Neelam Katara for not bending before their power and the number of life threats she received. Kudos to her for not giving up on her dead son. She didn’t just fight for her son, but for all those people who desire freedom to choose their life partners.
Mam, you just proved that no force is mightier than motherhood. A big salute to you mam!