Kathua rape & murder: Lawyer Deepika Rajawat questions media trial

Barred from reporting on the trial of the case being conducted ‘in camera’ outside the state, a section of the media, she alleges, are maligning her by disregarding facts

NH Photo by Pramod Pushkarna 
NH Photo by Pramod Pushkarna

Ashutosh Sharma

The sustained campaign in the media against lawyer Deepika Rajawat, who had taken up the abduction, rape and murder of the eight year old girl in Kathua, and the latest ‘news’ that she has been dropped as counsel by the victim’s family appear designed to merely humiliate the lawyer.

The trial, underway in Pathankot, is being argued by Special Public Prosecutors appointed by the state and lawyers engaged by the accused. The trial is also being held in camera on the orders of the Supreme Court and only people and lawyers required to attend the hearing on a particular day and time are being allowed in.

Therefore charges that Deepika Rajawat has not been attending the hearing at Pathankot appear baseless. Rajawat told the National Herald, “Not only was my role confined to briefing and assisting the public prosecutors as and when they required such assistance, I also have other cases to deal with here in Jammu, 100 kilometres from Pathankot.”

Advocate Mubeen Farooqi, who submitted an application in the Pathankot trial court on behalf of victim’s foster father, Mohammad Yusuf Pujwala, told National Herald,” The Pathankot Sessions Court has held over 110 hearings in the case so far and more than 100 witnesses have been examined. But Deepika could appear in the case only twice or thrice. She has time and again claimed threat to her life and the victim’s father says that he has lost his daughter and doesn’t want her (Deepika) to get harmed in anyway.” Mubeen however admitted, when asked, that even he doesn’t have much role in the trial.

Special public prosecutors SS Basra and District Attorney Jagdishwar Kumar Chopra are handling the trial. They are being assisted by KK Puri, Harbhajan Singh, Mubeen Farooqi and other advocates.

After the Supreme Court was informed that it was impossible to hold in-camera hearing because at any given time 50 lawyers of the accused were crowding into the courtroom, the Supreme Court laid down detailed procedures. It directed the district and sessions judge to ensure that during the in-camera trial, only one lawyer representing the accused, the special public prosecutor and public prosecutors besides the court staff would be present in the court room.

Rajawat hit out at media reports accusing her of milking the case to acquire celebrity status. “I have been working for women and child rights for over ten years. I stood up for justice to the child at a time when the police investigation was being subverted. I was boycotted by my own colleagues at the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association for taking up the case of a Bakerwal Muslim girl and people were divided along religious and regional lines,” she told NH.

In Jammu, an ultra-nationalistic counter-campaign was used to counter the movement seeking justice to the victim’s family and protesting attempts to shield the culprits. At least two BJP ministers in the state’s PDP-BJP coalition government were forced to resign for participating in a rally in support of the accused persons.

The investigations was shifted from the first Special Investigating Team (SIT) comprising police to a second SIT and finally to the Crime Branch. Police eventually arrested eight men, including a retired government official, four police men and a juvenile in connection with the murder. The arrests were soon followed by protests by Hindu nationalist groups.

Deepika had filed a writ petition on behalf of victim’s father with Jammu and Kashmir High Court, seeking a court-monitored investigation into the case. The charge-sheet could be presented to the Kathua Chief Judicial Magistrate at his residence as the Crime Branch team was not allowed to enter his chamber by protesting lawyers.

With the onset of winter, the nomadic family has returned to Jammu. But by all accounts, they are staying away from Rasana, where they were not even allowed to bury their child’s battered body.

The motive behind the crime, according to police charge-sheet, was to terrorise the victim’s community into leaving the village.

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