Jammu: While many lawyers in Jammu actively protested the filing of the police chargesheet against the accused in the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old, one local lawyer has stepped in to fight the case on behalf of the girl’s family.
Deepika Singh Rajawat, 38, a single parent and a Kashmiri Pandit whose family migrated from Kashmir to Jammu in 1986, has braved harassment and threats from her colleagues who warned her not to take on the case. She refused to relent.
In an interview to The Wire at her modest apartment in Jammu, she spoke about the fight for justice so far, the national outrage in the past four days, the outpouring of support, the disruptive role played by the Jammu Bar Association and the investigation of the J&K police. Rajawat is happy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally spoke up on the issue, but wants him to take on more responsibility and rein in his party members.
Kabir Agrawal: Prime Minister Modi has finally broken his silence on both the Unnao and Kathua rape cases and said the guilty will not be spared. Do you feel that is enough?
Deepika Singh Rajawat: It is good that he has spoken. But he should take more responsibility. He should take responsibility for these two BJP MLAs who went to Kathua and provoked people to violate law. He should also take the responsibility for the Unnao case because he is the prime minister of this country and he is the leader of the BJP. He should know how to rein in his party men. If something wrong is committed by his party men, he should take responsibility for that.
There has been a national outrage against what happened to the young girl, how her gang-rape and murder were pre-planned and how there was an attempted cover up. People from different walks of life and ideologies have united in their demand for justice for the family. You find yourself at the forefront of this struggle as the lawyer for the victim’s family. How do you view these developments?
Yes, the entire nation is supporting us now. Everyone has woken up. I feel strengthened. I feel everyone is there guarding me now and now they cannot dare cause me harm.
This incident happened in January and I have been associated with the case since February, when I approached the family. Being an activist, I felt that they needed proper legal advice. At that time, very few people came forward to help. I have been actively posting on social media about the case since the day I took up the case. But the focus of the national media has come only now. In those two months, it was just three of us who were actively involved in this battle.
But I will not blame anyone. The damage that was done has been repaired in the last three-four days. Now let us come together and move forward. Let us ensure that justice is done for the child and her family.
Why have lawyers of the Jammu Bar Association been so opposed to you taking up this case?
I cannot understand that. I am trying to uphold the law. That is my duty as a lawyer. And for that I feel I am being targeted as if I have done something wrong.
Lawyers have a role to play inside and outside court. And these lawyers are trying to hamper the proceedings. They tried to physically stop the police from filing the chargesheet. I mean….I am surprised. Will they stop the chargesheet against criminals from being filed? Is that the role of lawyers? This is something very unfortunate. I hang my head in shame because I belong to the same fraternity.
They have tried to threaten me. Lawyers are not there to scare people. We are not there to threaten that we will hold an AK 47 in our hands. Lawyers don’t look good doing this. Lawyers look good fighting for justice, and on the proper platform.
A few days after taking up the case, you filed a writ petition seeking a court monitored investigation into the case. Why did you feel the need to do so?
I thought the probe will be hushed up. The way these BJP people went and started raising slogans, provoking people to violate the law. All this made us feel the need to approach the honourable high court.
You felt it was probable that investigators would not do their job?
No, we thought that they would come under pressure. We are not questioning their capacity or credibility. We just thought that maybe they will come under pressure because of the way those two MLAs who are powerful ministers claimed that they would ensure that those who have been arrested would come back.
So, are you happy now that the chargesheet has been filed?
Yes, it is a strong chargesheet. The police has done a thorough job. They have repaired the damage that was caused earlier. We need to appreciate their efforts. Now, we should wait for the trial to begin.
You have asked for the trial to be shifted out of Kathua. Why?
There is a sense of insecurity. People can damage the case there. You saw how they tried to prevent the crime branch from filing the chargesheet. If they can try and do that, imagine what they can do with us.
And right now, the national media is following this case. But, how long will that last? What after that?
You have also spoken about how the president of the Jammu Bar association, B.S Slathia, threatened you. What happened?
He said ‘don’t spread filth here. Don’t work because we are on strike. Dare you work during strike. And I have the means to stop you’. He said that to me in court. Then, even the people in the canteen were told not to serve me. When I went to get something to eat, I was denied.
I took legal recourse, as lawyers should, and wrote a complaint to the chief justice of J&K High Court who took cognizance.
As a woman fighting this tough battle, for the past two months in particular you have been pretty much alone. You are fighting these powerful men who have some sort of political backing. Does that overwhelm you at times?
That encourages me. It doesn’t make me weak. It helps me. It boosts my morale. It makes me stronger in a way that yes, we have the capacity to fight. I feel that I can take them on and win.
You have been in touch with the girl’s family from the beginning. How have they been coping?
They are very poor people. They don’t know too much about the way the world functions. They belong to the poorest kind of family. Bakerwals are always moving from one place to another. They generally feel helpless. They live unheard and die unheard. But, they want justice for their girl. When I approached them, they were happy to see someone willing to fight for justice for their girl.
I am in constant touch with them. They know that the entire country is talking about their girl. But, again, I am telling you, they know very little about courts, police, justice.
How are the court fees and other legal expenditures in this case being taken care of?
I am paying out of my own pocket. I haven’t charged a single penny from the family.
How do you view the religious polarisation that has happened in relation this case?
People have categorised this case. They have made it communal. They are saying Hindus have been falsely implicated. But, they don’t have any ground or justification for that. They want a CBI inquiry. What is the track record of the CBI? Arushi case…destroyed. Sikh riots of 1984…destroyed. There are many such cases…Bofors also. What will CBI do now after three months?
Some are saying that if the Unnao case can be transferred to the CBI, why not the Kathua case too.
In Unnao, investigation hasn’t even begun. Here, a chargesheet has been filed. A fair investigation has been done. These are two different cases.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has spoken about death penalty for the rape of minors.
Do you think that can solve the problem (of rape)? Yes, it can be a deterrent. But, how effective a deterrent it will be I am not sure.
During the Nirbhaya case, there was so much outrage. The law was strengthened. But, have rapes stopped? Today, we have a young child (in Kathua).
How do you view the case going forward?
It will be a challenge. A long fight. The fight has just begun. The media attention is going to go away. Right now, I feel I am protected. But, after some time I won’t be. So, stress is there, but, the moment we get good news, it will go away.
What would be good news?
Good news would be a conviction.