Criminalization of politics
A politician with criminal records is not new in India and the fact that people under trial can contest elections is upsetting for Katara as it is “undermining the authority of the trial court”. “This is very upsetting”, she says. “It took me 8 years and a huge amount of money (mine and my husband's life savings) and even then if it does not help in the cause of attaining justice it is very discouraging. Even for the trial court judges might feel discouraged to give a strong verdict”.
The need of the hour, she feels, is that India cannot have criminals sitting in the parliament. Talking about the recent Supreme Court ruling about criminalization of politics, she said, “We cannot have criminals sitting in the parliament then we do not get the right kind of rules. It sends a very wrong message down to people, who commits crimes, that if nothing else, you can always get into parliament and a lot of people, who commits one crime after another, and they generally have political godfathers.”
Witness protection laws in India
These political Godfathers not only make laws to benefit this class but also harbor criminals. Nitish Katara's murder posed a lot of questions for the Government, Indian judiciary as well as the Indian Police. The most important one being witness protection and an absence of such a policy in India. Although now Neelam Katara says that she is not threatened anymore, but there were times when she used to be at the receiving end of stares and were never given protection. “We don't have witness protection laws in India. Kamini Jaiswal (Lawyer representing Neelam Katara) has gone to court, on my behalf, asking for protection of my family and me. On informing the judge about the absence of such a policy, the judge asked her to submit details about how it is managed in other countries and she did. What followed was legal counseling sessions and Indian court first time developed a witness protection guideline. The parliament did not move for a law and they said that till it is made a law a guideline will do. So the guideline is there but it is extremely difficult in India. In a country like America, they not only have a witness protection but also witness identity protection. A witness can move and have the names changed. That might be very difficult with the way Indians are - with our roots and our family ties; probably people wouldn't move,” explains Mrs. Katara.
Adding to the same she also points out the long process that a person would have to go through for the protection. “In our guidelines, it is mentioned that if any person wants police protection then they should go through the Delhi Legal State Authorities and then they should ask for protection. The State Legal Authorities will ask the Police to do an assessment if the person asking for the protection is in real danger; what is the level of threat and what is the expense involved; after which it would be granted.” As for witnesses, they are terrified to appear in court or take on political parties assuming that the case would go on forever and justice would not be meted out. This psychology also harms the case and witnesses do not appear or turn hostile.
Monkey business of jail authorities and others, who are glove in hand with the accused
After a long tryst with the legalities, when the accused of the Nitish Katara case were finally locked away, it was not the end. Vikas and Vishal are using their influence inside the prison. On record, for 36 months, they went out 66 times for medical checkups in referral hospitals- AIIMS and Dr. Batra's. In one such instance, it was Diwali that Vishal was in AIIMS and a nurse wrote down that the patient was not in his room. How a murder criminal out of jail for medical checkup vanish from his room raises a lot of question in anybody’s mind. But that is not the only thing that troubles Mrs Katara. “I get to hear that they are getting outside food, not wearing the jail uniform and in fact in the earlier days they were not even kept in the prison meant for convicts,” she says. “I asked for the reason and gave an RTI and got an answer from VK Gupta (Delhi Police), who said that it was done for security reasons.”
The tactics of leading a comfortable life within the jail premise are many, especially when you can pull a few strings using your political position. “Even when we are busy with our appeal in the court, the Tihar jail authorities silently moved an application writing to the Delhi government to ask the UP government whether Vikas and Vishal could be moved to a jail in UP”. Mrs.Katara got wind of the conspiracy and put up an application in the High Court. “The High Court was kind enough to ask the jail authorities about the application and sought a clarification on moving the convicts even in middle of the trial process but the jail authorities said that they were asking for the same after the verdict is out on the appeal.”
Even though the legal battle was never easy and the intricacies of seeking punishement for the murderers of her son were many, Mrs. Katara never bowed down. In fact after years of running around in the court room, she understands a thing or two about the legal reforms that could help India become a better country. In conversation with Neelam Katara - Part 3 will highlight on the outside court battle a common man faces.