Even as the Kathua rape and murder case became a cause of much religious polarisation earlier this year, advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat sought to transcend those barriers by representing the victim's family in court. Rajawat has received " and continues to receive " both effusive praise and vitriolic abuse for her decision to take up the case.
On Sunday, she will receive the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice " an initiative of the Harmony Foundation " at an event in Mumbai. She will receive the recognition for "defying threats and intimidation to ensure justice for the underage minor victim of rape and murder". Speaking with Firstpost, Rajawat said that getting the award is a "source of strength and courage" for her. She also expressed her views on a host of issues including the developments in the Kathua rape and murder case, accountability of the media, the death penalty and the #MeToo movement. Following are edited excerpts from the interview:
What challenges have you been facing since you decide to represent the victim's family in the Kathua rape and murder case? The most significant challenge has been that of fighting people from my community. Most people from the majority community are opposed to my stand. I have faced a lot of abuse and threats on social media, which was something I experienced for the first time. However, I have been facing them with pride, because I know that I am fighting for an 8-year-old child. My only motive is to secure justice for her.
I have a daughter who is six years old, and so I can understand the pain of the family of the victim in this case. That is how I approached the family and offered my services as a lawyer. I feel that if I would not have done so, they may not have gotten support from anyone.
However, even after so many months, some people still deal with me as though I have committed some offence. While I have received appreciation in the country and even outside, at many native place, a large proportion of the population have hatred towards me. Perhaps, they feel that I took a stand against my own community and supported another community. However, I feel that as a lawyer, I should focus on the client, and not the religion of the client. Even if people from my community disown me, I want to ensure justice for the child.
There have been a lot of fake claims which have been circulated with respect to this case. How do you think fake news can be tackled " in this case as well as otherwise?
Even if we leave out social media for the moment, authorities have some amount of control over newspapers and TV channels. These authorities should keep a check to ensure that media outlets do not violate regulations. In the Kathua case itself, a television channel had spread false claims about me, saying that I had made certain speeches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), when the speech was in fact made at the Parliament street. An anchor on the channel alleged that I had connections with anti-national elements. I sent a legal notice to him and also made a representation to the News Broadcasting Standards Authority. These claims caused immense damage to me. However, I did not get a response.
Following the Kathua case, the Centre has amended the law to introduce the possibility of the death penalty for those convicted of raping children younger than 12 years. What is your opinion about this decision?
I feel that there is a need to work on some other things and implement existing laws better. Education, police reforms and parenting are some of these issues. In my opinion, rather than hanging some people convicted in such cases, we need to take measures to ensure that such crimes do not take place.
At present, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act is not being implemented properly. On many occasions, police officers do not register FIRs or do not give complainants a copy of their complaint. They deal with victims in a way which aggravates their pain, instead of assuaging it.
Recently, a lot of women have come forward with stories of sexual harassment and abuse as part of the #MeToo campaign. What is your view on it? I respect and salute the women who have spoken out about such incidents. However, as a practising lawyer, I would appeal to people who face such abuse to promptly report it, and not succumb to pressure. While the Supreme Court has held that delay in reporting should not be fatal to the case, the complainant has to give a satisfactory reply to the police and the court on why she delayed approaching the justice system. Another point which needs to be highlighted is that a delay in reporting can encourage and allow the perpetrator to commit more such crimes.