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“You will not be forgiven.”
“Are you hand in glove with the Hurriyat?”
These are just some of the comments Advocate Deepika Rajawat has received from members of the legal fraternity ever since she took up the Kathua rape and murder case earlier this year. Her colleagues have shunned her, branding her as an anti-nationalist. Others have even gone to the extent of issuing rape and death threats.
“I am facing a social boycott…They have removed me from their groups as if I have committed an offence! According to them, the fact that they are standing for the rape accused is not an offence; what I have done is an offence.”
She recounts a recent incident that left her in tears.
“I am a human being, I have emotions. The other day, I went to a notary public in the court and asked her to attest some documents. She said, ‘I will not do it’. That really hurt me; I left the court with tears in my eyes.
They stopped me from getting service in the bar rooms. The other day, one of the lawyers had written on my Facebook wall: ‘You will not be forgiven’. This is the way they are trying to weaken me, by damaging my reputation.”
These are not just one-off incidents; Rajawat claims that there has been an organised effort on the part of a section of the Bar to discredit her. She recounts how the President of the Jammu Bar Association, BS Salathia – a Senior Advocate no less – also tried to deter her from pursuing the case.
“On April 4, President of the Bar Association Mr Salathia tried to stop me from appearing during the suspension of work. He used derogatory language as well.”
But what shook her most was the attempt of a section of the media to paint her as a “vampire” (her own words). She makes special reference to Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary’s coverage of the case.
“He had accused me of being part of the alleged ‘Bharat Tere Tukde Honge’ gang. It was alleged that I was at JNU. All of sudden, I was portrayed as an anti-nationalist, without confirming facts…
…When I saw that story, I lost my senses. I almost lost hope. When you have lived a life without having a negative record, and you are branded like this all of a sudden, you lose your faith.”
The coverage added fuel to the fire; the threats and intimidation increased, so much so that she had stopped taking calls on her mobile number. That is when she decided to hit back.
“I pity Sudhir Chaudhary, who was in Tihar jail for extortion. Does he have the standing to question my patriotism and credibility? Even after I served a legal notice on him, he is saying, ‘I will keep exposing you!’ (laughs). I don’t understand what kind of journalism this is. He said I was in JNU for three days. If you prove it, Mr. Chaudhury, I swear I will surrender my licence to practice law.
He has damaged me and the very fabric of our society. He has tried to create communal violence, and brand us as anti-nationalists. He has committed an offence and he will be dealt with very seriously. I have already sent a legal notice; in the days to come, I plan to file a defamation case against him. We will not spare him for what he has done.”
And despite the constant barrage of criticism, Rajawat will not be deterred from continuing to do what she thinks is right.
“Everyone holds their pride close to their heart. And when I see my pride getting attacked, my heart beats faster. Especially after I have lived an extremely hard life and belong to a less privileged section of society. But if you were to ask me to choose between getting damaged this way and not fighting for the child, I would fight for the child, and not care for the damage.”
Apart from defiance, Rajawat carries with her a sense of duty and a commitment to the cause of helping those in need. This served as her inspiration to take up the case.
“I am a lawyer, and it is my duty to work for such people. When I wear robes, I have no religion. Mrs. Indira Jaising, who is my guide, said the other day that the Constitution is our Holy Book. That inspired me to take up the case and render justice to an eight-year-old child who was gangraped and murdered, as per the charge sheet.
…I am a woman, so I could feel the pain of the child. You need to be sensitive to take up these cases. Indira (Jaising) told me, ‘Deepika, first get satisfied with the facts. Feel the pain. Then you will actually represent the victim’.”
For all the abuse she has received for representing the victim’s family, Rajawat has also garnered support from various quarters. She is grateful to Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, who is appearing in the matter before the Supreme Court pro bono.
“I must say that the number of people threatening me is few. The ones who are supporting me are larger in number. I feel empowered and strengthened from the support Mrs. Jaising has given me, and with the support of the national media and the people of India. The international community has also extended support to us, and I am thankful to them on behalf of the parents of the victim.”
And after the Supreme Court intervened in the matter, things have taken a turn for the better.
“We requested protection before the Supreme Court, and the Court directed the state to provide us protection. We are being protected now, there are personal security officers for me and my daughter. As on date, I feel safe because the boys are protecting us.”
Another relief sought for in the Supreme Court is the transfer of the trial out of Kathua, where Rajawat believes a fair trial is impossible.
“You have seen the situation; you have seen how the Crime Branch team was stopped from filing the charge sheet. I strongly feel that in such circumstances, the trial cannot take place peacefully at Kathua. It should be transferred to a place which is safe and convenient to the parents of the victim.”
She is, of course, referring to a section of the Bar along with an organization called the Hindu Ekta Manch, which has painted the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl with communal hues. Amidst consternation among the general Indian public, the Manch along with the lawyers had sympathised with the rape accused and called for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the case.
The lawyers behind these protests, Rajawat claims, have political motives. To them, she says,
“I want to say that if you have political ambitions, please be on that side, don’t be on this side. As a lawyer, you have a different role to play, don’t intermingle the two. If you do, you will be bringing disgrace to both.
If you analyse the situation from the beginning, you will know how things have gone wrong. I have listened to a speech of one of the lawyers who has been at the forefront of seeking a CBI investigation into the case. He has said that the Hindu Ekta Manch was created for this sole reason.”
As for her own motivation, Rajawat says,
“I am a proud Hindu and a proud nationalist. I have no political aspirations. My motto is to be a roaring voice for the protection of the interests of the underprivileged…
…A true nationalist is one who stands up for a cause, irrespective of anything. Our religion teaches us compassion and to protect people in need. If it is a bad thing to fight for the weak, then we are probably bad people.
I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve; I keep it inside me and try to apply it through my actions.”
Even as the Kathua case has provoked the government to pass a knee-jerk Ordinance allowing the death the penalty for rapes committed on minors below the age of 12, Rajawat feels that this is not the solution to a systemic problem.
“Legislation on this issue will not work. Had that been the case, rapes would have stopped after Dhananjay Chatterjee’s hanging. How many rapes have happened since then? The incidents of Nirbhaya and the eight-year-old child have happened.
In India, where because of a few people the setup has become polluted, I don’t think capital punishment would work. I believe the system needs to be changed. Stakeholders need to work more efficiently, and everyone needs to do their duty. The Prime Minister, President and Chief Ministers have a role to play.”
And speaking of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajawat feels that he needs to play a less passive role in all of this.
“Our Hon’ble Prime Minister has a role to play. He should not go scot-free, and we should not let him. While he is governing the country, his party men are making slogans defending rape accused, misusing the Tricolour, and a Union Minister made a shameful statement about rape. He should outrightly throw such people out if he wants to have a good nation.
He is not representing only one community; he needs to have the confidence of everyone. If we keep fighting on religious basis and keep damaging statues of people like Babasaheb Ambedkar, it will be very unfortunate. In the interests of the nation, I request him to keep watch on his people and others, and to be neutral.”
At a time where the schism between people grows wider and communal disharmony continues to rear its ugly head, Rajawat concludes on this note:
“I strongly feel that if we stand by each other and realise the difference between good and bad, good days will come. Good days will not come by giving slogans; they will come when the nation wakes up.”