On the fateful night of 16 February, 2002, Vikas Yadav, the son of a power politician from Uttar Pradesh, along with his cousin Vishal Yadav and aide Sukhdev Pehalwan abducted and killed 25-year-old Nitish Katara – an MBA graduate and the son of an IAS officer. Katara was punished for his closeness to Vikas' sister Bharti Yadav, a relationship that Vikas did not approve of.
It was a case of 'honour killing'.
The 'honour killing' took place in the National Capital Region (NCR), an area representative of a new-age India. The perpetrators were two educated men, who could very well have been mistaken as representatives of the new inspirational middle class.
Fourteen years after that fateful night, the Supreme Court on Monday gave its final judgement in the case. The apex court sentenced Vikas and Vishal Yadav to 25 years in imprisonment without remission. The court also handed a 20-year sentence to their aide Pehalwan in the case.
In the 93-page judgement, Justices Dipak Misra and C Nagappan made some important observations that leaves one baffled at the way caste and other prejudices continue to dictate social life and individual choices even now. It reads like a social commentary on a disturbing paradox that exists in the extreme: A modern India coexisting with a medieval one.
An India, where a man is brutally killed for loving a woman who does not belong to his caste and where a girl is denied her choice in the name of some mistaken sense of honour. Add to this the irony that the stage for all this is a place where identities forged by achievements have replaced the ascriptive ones, as one may assume.
While sentencing the three accused in the case the court observed, “From the aforesaid findings recorded by the high court it is vivid that crime was committed in a planned and cold blooded manner with the motive that has emanated due to feeling of some kind uncalled for and unwarranted superiority based on caste feeling that has blinded the thought of “choice available” to a sister — a representative of women as a class. The high court in its judgment of conviction has unequivocally held that it is 'honour killing' and the said findings apart from being put to rest, also gets support from the evidence brought on record. The circumstantial evidence by which the crime has been established, clearly lead to one singular conclusion that the anger of the brother on the involvement of the sister with the deceased, was the only motive behind crime.”
The apex court made it clear that it highlighted the issue 'honour killing' as, according to the court, it is a seminal ground for imposing the fixed term sentence of twenty-five years for the offences under section 302/34 IPC on the two accused persons. However, it also reflected on the irony that how the two accused (Vikas and Vishal) in spite of being “ highly educated in good educational institutions, had not cultivated the ability to abandon the depricable feelings and attitude for centuries.”
“Perhaps, they have harboured the fancy that it is an idea of which time had arrived from time immemorial and ought to stay till eternity,” the judgement added.
In an another important observation the apex court held that “Freedom, independence, constitutional identity, individual choice and thought of a woman be a wife or sister or daughter or mother cannot be allowed to be curtailed definitely not by application of physical force or threat or mental cruelty in the name of his self-assumed honour.”
The judgement further reads, “One may feel 'My honour is my life' but that does not mean sustaining one’s honour at the cost of another. That apart, neither the family members nor the members of the collective has 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. 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”.
Apart from the Supreme Court, the judgement of the high court also reflects on the absurdity of honour killing in some detail. It reads, “The instant case manifests that even in a household belonging to the highest class in society, (one in which you can make day trips with friends from Ghaziabad to Mumbai just to celebrate a birthday; owns multiple businesses and properties, luxury vehicles etc.) what can happen to even a young, educated, articulate daughter if she attempted to break away from the conventional caste confines and explored lifetime alliance with a member of another caste. Especially one who was also perceived to be of a lesser economic status".
It further reads, “We have found that immediately after Shivani Gaur’s wedding, Bharti was completely segregated and confined by her family. On the 17th of February 2002 itself, she was spirited away from her residence in Ghaziabad to Faridabad. The police could record her statement under Section 161 of the Cr.P.C only on the 2nd of March 2002 that too under the eagle eye of her father, a seasoned politician. Shortly thereafter, she was sent out of India to UK and kept out of court for over three and a half years. Her testimony is evidence of the influence of her brothers and family as she prevaricates over trivial matters and denies established facts borne out by documentary evidence. Finally, when she must have been stretched to the utmost, she succumbs to their pressures when she concedes a deviously put suggestion. Undoubtedly, the family of Nitish Katara has suffered at his demise and thereafter. Having given our thought to this issue, we are of the view that apart from the deceased and his family, there is one more victim in an 'honour killing'”.
The observations made in both the judgments raises important issues about the lack of individual choices available to women and reflects seriously on social prejudices that tend to permeate even the lives in the most urbanised of spaces. For the same reasons, it should be read with some seriousness.