Stating that a woman’s “individual choice is her self-respect and creating a dent in it is (akin to) destroying her honour”, the Supreme Court on Monday sentenced Vikas Yadav, who had killed Nitish Katara for having an affair with his sister, to at least 25 years in jail without remission. Vikas’s accomplice Sukhdev Pehlwan — an employee of his father, Uttar Pradesh politician D P Yadav — was handed a jail term of a minimum 20 years.
A bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C Nagappan dismissed Vikas’s appeal against his jail term for a fixed period, defining killing for honour as a facet of “medieval obsessive assertions”. Nitish was murdered in February 2012 after being abducted from a marriage function in UP’s Ghaziabad.
The court, however, held that Vikas’s jail terms under charges of murder and for destruction of evidence shall run concurrently and not consecutively because of a legal fallacy in the Delhi High Court’s verdict.
The High Court had sentenced Vikas to life imprisonment with a fixed term of 25 years without remission, and another five years for destroying evidence. It had maintained the terms shall run consecutively.
The apex court, however, said that a person could not be first sentenced to life imprisonment and then be given additional punishment since life term would ordinarily mean till the end of one’s life. Therefore, the bench said, the High Court order had to be modified to the extent that the sentences shall run concurrently.
The modification by the top court shall make Vikas eligible to seek remission from the state government after serving 25 years in jail instead of 30 years as stipulated by the High Court. Similarly, Sukhdev can ask for reprieve after 20 years. The third convict in the case, Vikas’s cousin Vishal Yadav, had not appealed against his conviction. Vishal would, therefore, remain incarcerated for at least 30 years.
Vikas will also have to pay a fine of R50 lakh, out of which R25 lakh and R 5 lakh shall be disbursed to the governments in Delhi and UP, respectively, towards investigation and prosecution in the case. R20 lakh shall be given to Neelam Katara, Nitish’s mother, as costs incurred by her in relentless pursuing the matter.
Neelam called the apex court verdict her “biggest victory” and applauded the bench for upholding a jail term beyond 14 years without remission. “We wanted the death penalty for the convicts but I am still satisfied that the court acknowledged that it was not a normal murder but an honour killing by rich people drunk on power,” she told The Indian Express. “The evidence they destroyed was my son’s body, not a pair of slippers.”
In its judgment, the bench concurred with the High Court that it was an act of “honour killing” and said that freedom, independence, constitutional identity, individual choice and thought of a woman could not be allowed to be curtailed by physical force or threat or mental cruelty.