In the year 1998, Nitish Katara joined the IMT, Ghaziabad in order to pursue an MBA (PGDBM) course. There he befriended Gaurav Gupta, Bharat Diwakar and Bharti Yadav (daughter of Shri D.P. Yadav, Member of Parliament and an industrialist). The course finished in the year 2000 whereafter Nitish Katara took a job with Reliance General Insurance in Delhi itself as his father was ill. Bharti continued to reside in the National Capital Region as well. In around January, 2001 with passage of time the friendship of this young couple blossomed into a love affair. This relationship was known to Bharti’s family members and relatives including her sister Bhawna Yadav, mother Umlesh Yadav, brother Vikas Yadav, cousin brother Vishal Yadav etc.
It was the case of prosecution case that this relationship was not palatable to Vikas and Vishal Yadav and that they were opposed to it. This aversion was the motive for the abduction and murder of Nitish Katara. An alliance was fixed of Shivani Gaur (a childhood friend of Bharti) with one Amit Arora, and they got engaged on 4th June, 2001. Their marriage was fixed on the night of 16th February, 2002. To this wedding, Shivani Gaur invited the family of Bharti Yadav as well as the family of Nitish Katara. Nitish Katara came there with his friend and Bharti was also there. Both danced together in Sangeet ceremony and got pictures clicked at the time of wedding. Between midnight and 12:30 a.m., Nitish Katara was spotted with the Vikas Yadav, Vishal Yadav and Sukhdev Yadav in a Tata Safari bearing Punjab registration No.PB-07H- 0085 outside the venue by security guards. Thereafter he was not seen alive.
In the morning of 17th February, 2002, a badly burnt dead body was lying on the Shikharpur Road near Khurja. A post-mortem was conducted on the corpse on the 18th of February 2002 in which it was opined that the death was caused due to coma as a result of ante mortem head injury with post mortem burn. The doctor had observed a fracture injury about 7 cms above the left eyebrow of the dead body. Smt. Nilam Katara identified the body as that of her son, Nitish Katara by examining his left palm which was not burnt and comparing it with her own hand, as Nitish Katara had unusually small hands.
The Trial Court held that Nitish’s murder was an honour killing because the family did not approve their relationship. Vikas, Vishal and Sukhdev Yadav were found guilty by the trial Court and awarded life sentence on 30 May 2008 for commission of offences under Section 302/364/201 read with Section 34 IPC.
Judgment of the High Court in the appeal preferred by the accused starts with: “Justice to all – the accused, the society as well as a fair chance to prove to the prosecution – is not only an integral part of the criminal justice system but it is its prime objective.”
Vishal, Vikas and Sukhdev Yadav had challenged his conviction by the judgment dated 28th of May 2002 on the ground that there was no evidence at all to support the guilt of the appellant; that the prosecution had failed to establish any motive against the appellants; that there was no credible evidence of the appellants being in the company of the deceased either at the wedding, outside the venue or anywhere else in the Tata Safari vehicle. It has been contended that the evidence led by the prosecution was shaky and not credible and that the appellant has been convicted on sheer conjectures and surmises.
The issues which were framed by Delhi High Court are:-
- Whether the presumption in accordance with law that a person is presumed innocent till proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt as well as the constitutional right to silence of an accused person entitles an accused person to actively engage in obstructing trial; subverting due process; suborning witnesses and leading false evidence?
- The question which has to be answered is as to whether an accused person can orchestrate non-existent or technical errors during trial and then assert a mistrial entitling him to an acquittal or a retrial?
While dealing with the first issue, Court observed that in the case (1978) 4 SCC 161, Inder Singh & Anr. v. State (Delhi Administration) V.R. Krishna Iyer, J. wrote that ―credibility of testimony, oral and circumstantial, depends considerably on a judicial evaluation of the totality, not isolated scrutiny… Proof beyond reasonable doubt is a guideline, not a fetish and guilty man cannot get away with it because truth suffers some infirmity when projected through human processes. Judicial quest for perfect proof often accounts for police presentation of fool-proof concoction. Why fake up? Because the court asks for manufacture to make truth look? No, we must be realistic. It is trite that accused persons are entitled to get benefit of doubt only when the prosecution fails to prove its case. The proof beyond reasonable doubt is a guiding factor and not an absolute rule. The evidence in the present case has to be scrutinized on these principles.
Further the Court observed that motive is an important link in a case resting on circumstantial evidence. Vikas Yadav is the brother of Bharti Yadav and Bhawna Yadav and they are the children of Shri D.P. Yadav. Vishal Yadav is their first cousin (son of Shri D.P. Yadav’s sister). Sukhdev @ Pehalwan was employed at their liquor business in Bulandshahr. It was proved in the Trial Court that Nitish Katara and Bharti were involved in an intimate romantic relationship and that they were contemplating a lifelong relationship, even culminating in marriage. The relationship between Bharti and Nitish Katara was disapproved by Vikas Yadav and Vishal Yadav.
Hon’ble High Court held that “the broad features of the case established by the prosecution, the testimony of the witnesses, the documentary evidence proved on record, the convincing array of facts which are indisputable as well as the conduct of the appellants, unerringly converge to only one conclusion that may be reasonably drawn, namely that the appellants (Vikas Yadav, Vishal Yadav and Sukhdev) are guilty. It therefore has to be held that the appellants shared a common intention to abduct the deceased Nitish Katara and commit his murder as well as to set aflame his dead body to cause disappearance of the evidence in order to screen themselves of the legal punishment of the said offences attached to the heinous crimes.”
While considering the sad state of affairs in the present Indian society the High Court has observed that “The instant case also manifests the restrictions within which many women in this country grow and survive in the Indian society. It epitomizes the limitations in choosing a life partner, even in the case of an educated, articulate young lady from a well-placed family in the National Capital Region.” On April 2, 2014, Delhi High Court upheld the Trial Court verdict of life imprisonment to the accused. On Feb 6 2015, Delhi High Court on re-appeal on Death Sentence, extended sentence as to 25 years in jail without remission and their aide to 20 years, with an additional five years each for destruction of evidence.
Recently, on October 3, 2016, the Supreme Court while upholding the judgment of Delhi High Court said that those sentences would run concurrently and not one after the other as the High Court had ordered, effectively reducing the prison terms for each of them by five years. So since the Yadavs, had been in jail for the last 14 years, they will be remain there till 2027.
Justice J.S. Khehar observed that with the help of a hired killer, Sukhdev Pehalwan, the duo “ took him (Nitish Katara) home, then god knows where, killed him and dumped his body”. The murder was considered an honour killing, but a Supreme Court bench led by Justice J.S. Khehar said the crime can neither be classified as an honour killing nor be in the category of the rarest of rare crime warranting death penalty. “It may be a planned murder but it certainly is not heinous. And every murder is planned. Tell us which murder is not planned? If it is not planned, strictly speaking it will not be murder. If it is in heat of the moment, it will come under exception clause of Section 300 (murder).”
It was also observed by the Supreme Court that Nitish’s murder was “committed in a planned and cold-blooded manner with the motive that has emanated due to feeling of some kind of uncalled for and unwarranted superiority based on caste.” Further it said that “neither the family members nor the members of the collective has any right to assault the boy chosen by the girl. Her individual choice is her self-respect and creating dent in it is destroying her honour.”