Voicing concern over the existence of "honour killing" in the adjacent area of national capital, a cosmopolitan city, the Delhi high court on Wednesday said the 12 year-old Nitish Katara murder case was a classic example of the malaise and upheld the conviction of Sukhdev Pehlwan, Vishal Yadav and Vikas Yadav, son of UP politician D P Yadav.
In 2008, all the three convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court. The high court, however, said it will hear on April 25 the state's plea for enhancement of the penalty from life to death.
On the intervening night of February 16-17, 2002, Katara, an MBA graduate and son of an IAS officer, was abducted from a marriage party in UP's Ghaziabad area by Vikas and his cousin Vishal along with their associate Pehlwan. Katara was later killed as they were against their sister Bharti Yadav's relations with him.
"The present case again brings to the fore a malaise which still afflicts Indian society that finds its roots in the entrenched social structures based on religion, caste and economic standing. What is of special concern is that such divisive forces exist even on the borders of Delhi–the nation's capital, which is also a cosmopolitan city," a bench of justices Gita Mittal and J R Midha said in their 1,193-page judgment.
It narrated the circumstantial evidence and also accepted the prosecution's argument that Bharti's family had opposed her intimacy with Katara due to social and economical disparities. The court said, "He (Katara) was not from the same caste and that he belonged to a service class family. While she was a Yadav, Nitish was a Katara...The case of the prosecution squarely brings the murder of the Nitish Katara within the meaning of the expression honour killing.
The bench, which had heard the arguments on appeals filed by the three convicts for a year long (April 16, 2012 to April 16, 2013), cited that Bharti's sister Bhawna is married to a person of the same community and Pehalwan is a Yadav.
"Many of the defence witnesses are of the same caste as well. This only reinforces the prosecution's case that the family of Bharti was caste conscious, and appears to be making matrimonial alliances only with members of the same caste," it said suggesting a separate law to deal with such case.
"Honour killing is a class of offence by itself. Its motivation stemming from a deeply entrenched belief in the caste system, it is completely unacceptable. It needs serious examination as to why such murders are not categorized as separate offences in the penal provision," the court said and t rejected convicts'argument that socio-economic and caste difference would not incite such violence so as to lead to murder of a person.
"Not only is this submission completely misplaced but is contrary to the existing realities in India. Several instances of murder on account of opposition of a family member or members to an association or alliance with a person of a different caste, sub-caste, religion or economic strata leading to murder have been documented...," the court said.
The court also pulled Yadav brothers for their attempt to resort to delaying tactics during the trial even deposition of their sister Bharti took more than three years to depose as a witness in the court.
It said that because of their "influence" it took their sister, Bharti three and half years to enter the witness box.
The bench also said that they made every possible effort to avoid appearance of Bharti, a material witness before the trial court, which resulted in substantial delay in trial as well as "pressurized her into withholding material evidence and giving testimony which was false".
Slamming that the convicts had tried to influence the witnesses in the case the court said "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 by witnesses."
According to prosecution, Bharati and Katara were classmates in the MBA course. On the fateful day, they had gone to attend their common friend's marriage in Ghaziabad. Katara was abducted by the convicts from the venue and his charred body was found near a canal from Bulandshar in UP.