Deepika Singh Rajawat came under the harsh national spotlight after the rape and murder in the village of Kathua of an eight-year old from a nomadic herder community. Rajawat offered legal support to the victim’s family, going up against two state ministers who defended the rape-accused.
Almost a year later, on November 16, the victim’s father filed an application in court divesting Rajawat of her power of attorney, citing her consistent absence from court hearings and accusing her of only taking up the case for garnering publicity.
Rajawat, a38-year-old Kashmiri Pandit from Jammu, is an advocate at the Jammu and Kashmir high court. She is chairperson of Voice for Rights, an NGO for human rights and also works for Child Rights and You (CRY).
In an exclusive interview with The Wire, Rajawat answers some pressing questions.
The family has accused you of neglecting the case, of not appearing at hearings, and has filed an application removing you as their lawyer. What do you have to say about that?
State criminal cases are taken up by State counsels – the appointed public prosecutors – which is the provision of the CRPC. I am a private counsel. I took the matter to the high court when we filed a writ petition for monitoring the case. Then I took them up to the Supreme court because that was also in my capacity. Any private lawyer can appear in the high court and Supreme Court given the client’s permission. In this case also, the same has happened.
The trial in Pathankot is conducted by the appointed prosecutors—one is Mr Chopra, the other is Mr Basra – and I have been in contact with them. I talked to them yesterday itself.
Have you been in touch with the family regarding the proceedings of the case?
The family are Bakkarwals [a nomadic community]. They keep moving from one place to the other. When the case ended up in the Supreme court in June, and the trial started in [the same period], summer had already started and they had migrated from here to Ladakh, in the mountains.
It wasn’t possible to be in touch with them. Everyone needs to understand that. I was in touch with lawyers and others to stay updated about the case.
The public prosecutors are taking care of the case, and a private counsel like myself is not required. When they needed me at a crucial stage, I was with them. At that time, no one was supporting them – they had no lawyer and perhaps no means to appoint a lawyer.
If you feel that your role as a lawyer had ended, why didn’t you withdraw from the case?
There was no requirement to withdraw. They appointed me for the high court [hearings] and I was there. They appointed me for the Supreme Court, I was there. For the sessions court, three Public Prosecutors are there. There is no requirement of beating drums about withdrawing or being together. Everyone knew that I was with them.
Then why do you think they have filed an application for removing you as their lawyer?
See, that would be getting into a blame game. They are innocent people. Maybe they have been misguided. Otherwise, in legal practice, filing such application is not the norm. I do think something fishy is going on. But if my clients want that I should not continue with them, it is their sweet will.
Who do you think the family is being misguided by?
Maybe there are few people, but I don’t want to get into that controversy or blame game. I have been raised with high professional ethics.
It could be another lawyer?
Perhaps. Those who wish to gain [from] it now.
You could still have gone to some of the hearings just to ensure that the case wasn’t weakening.
I have cited three reasons for not travelling back and forth – I am a woman, I am a mother, and I have cases here in Jammu. These are valid reasons. But the most important reason is that it wasn’t needed for me to be present there. The public prosecutors are doing their job well.
It’s a pro bono case and you say you haven’t taken any payment. Is that true?
The case in the first place was entirely pro bono. I have not taken a single penny from them.
When the allegations were raised about me exploiting the family for money, I went to the IGP Jammu and asked them to initiate a probe. Unfortunately, the IGP never initiated one, and even misplaced my application and then told me to file a fresh application.
Questions are being raised about you travelling across India and even internationally. It is being alleged that you have used the crowdsourced money which was for the victim’s family. Is there any truth to this?
All across my twitter wall, I am being called names. They call me a fraud and raise accusations. I will clarify this once and for all, that I went to Geneva and Vancouver. In Vancouver, the Sikh community conducted a mela and I was honoured by Trinjan, an NGO there. That trip was funded by the NGO. The other trip, to Geneva, was again funded by an NGO and I attended a session at the UN headquarters. Other things, like when I am called to Kerala or Delhi for events and workshops, are all funded by the organisers.
The family has said that their account, holding the money from the crowdfunding campaign, has been frozen. What do you know about it?
That is completely false. Their accounts have not been frozen. I confirmed with the bank when the story ran on national media, because I wished to check on the welfare of the family. Eighteen lakhs have been put in their account, and everyone knows that.
If you think the account is frozen, talk to the bank manager. What is the need to go to the National Human Rights Commission?
One thing I wish to say again is that these are innocent people. They are being misguided by others who wish to keep this case in the limelight.
The Kathua case remains at the centre of national attention. Firstly, with Talib Hussain, the activist associated with the case, being accused of rape – and now this. Have you had any conversations with Talib?
When Talib was accused by his sister-in-law of raping her, we tried to guide him. I went to Samba where he was put behind bars and where the FIR was registered. I was with him because he needed legal support and so we extended legal support. But the JNU MeToo matter came up when a student activist accused him of rape. So, I was with the victim. I am always with the victim.
Apart from that, there have been no conversations. He has his political aspirations. He was busy with his campaigns before he was arrested.
You have mentioned that you constant get rape and death threats. Can you identify the people making it and take action against them?
Someone tweeted today that you are “Kothewali”. That is so bad. Is wanting to help someone so wrong? If activists are maligned and discouraged this much, who would have the guts to stand for someone?
You asked if I can identify them: I can identify so many. I have even filed applications. Once a lawyer’s husband told me on Facebook that I am a blackmailer. I filed an application against him with the S.P. Operations in Gandhi Nagar. Ask him if any action has been taken against the man.
We remain so busy with work. At the time I did decide to file defamation cases, but I have never wanted to get personally involved.
Pallavi Sareen is a freelance journalist working in Jammu & Kashmir who writes for Kashmir Times and Kashmir Life.