The ramifications of how the Nitish Katara murder case concluded—the Supreme Court sentenced Katara’s two politically well-connected killers to 25 and 30 years in prison with no remission, and the third, to 20 years—go beyond just ensuring justice in this particular case. To be sure, for Katara’s mother, Neelam, who had been fighting the case since 2002, justice was long and treacherously fraught in coming. Her fight was as much in the courts as outside, given the political and financial clout and muscle of Uttar Pradesh strongman-politician DP Yadav, whose son Vikas and nephew Vishal, with the help of Sukhdev Pehalwan, a person employed by the family, abducted and clobbered Nitish to death with a hammer for being in a relationship with Bharti, DP’s daughter. There were threat-calls and letters, witnesses turned hostile—the Yadavs even slapped a R20-crore defamation suit against the public prosecutor in the matter. But, as much as the verdict means closure for Neelam Katara, it also means a significant evolution in the manner the Indian judicial system is viewing hate-crimes like honour killings.
The apex court has said in its verdict that a woman’s “individual choice is her self-respect and creating a dent in it is (akin to) destroying her honour”. Terming the murder a “crime of extreme brutality”, the court remarked “to impose so-called brotherly or fatherly honour or class honour … (is) deplorable perception of ‘honour’, comparable to medieval obsessive assertions”. The two-judge bench noted the Yadavs’ feeling of “unwarranted superiority based on caste feeling” that led to the murder while handing them sentenceslonger than the usual 14 years after which a prisoner sentenced to life can petition for release on grounds of good conduct. In 2015, there were 192 honour killings registered as murder and 59 registered as culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Such manifestation of casteism and misogyny will need a systemic change, beginning with perhaps a law that prescribes harsher punishments for honour crimes. But the Katara case verdict sure makes a good beginning.