By Linah Baliga, Mumbai Mirror | Updated: Oct 31, 2018
It’s clear that nothing can cow Deepika Singh Rajawat into silence. The Jammu-based lawyer, who is representing the Kathua rape victim’s family, continues to defy threats and intimidation to ensure that justice will finally be served.
Besides revealing how she was treated as an outcast by her own community, Rajawat, who was in the city to receive the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice instituted by Harmony Foundation, told Mirror on the sidelines of the event that the #MeToo movement needs to have solid legal support to have any long-term outcomes. She also said the allegations of rape against the activist who led the Kathua justice campaign should have no bearing on the Kathua case. Excerpts from an interview:
What are the challenges you faced when you took up the Kathua case?
As a woman lawyer, it was a thrilling and challenging experience. I had to fight people from my own community. Many people in Jammu criticised and hated me, even going to the extent of saying that I supported an “anti-India” movement. But I did my job sincerely. I was scared for my six-year-old daughter. What helped me through was the realisation that those abusing me were fewer than those supporting me.
Why did you take up this controversial case?
People ascribe motives. They think I have a political motive or that I am doing it for money. But I took up this case pro bono. As a law student, there was a subject ‘professional ethics’, which stressed upon a lawyer’s responsibility outside the court. I am just doing what I am supposed to do as a mother, a lawyer, and most importantly, a woman. I have a daughter who is six years old. It was my moral duty to be there for the Kathua victim, regardless of her religion.
How did you deal with threats from the Jammu Bar Association?
They threatened me because I stood up against them. (The bar association had opposed the arrest of the accused and had even allegedly obstructed filing of the chargesheet in court.) The then bar president told me not to appear for the victim’s family. He even threatened me. But I refused to support the association’s stand.
How has the Kathua trial changed you?
Imagine a person being covered with a quilt and that quilt is suddenly removed. That is how it feels. The media attention was unexpected. For some time, I didn’t understand what was happening. People had expectations from me which put my health, security and family on the line. At one point, things got so difficult for my family that I had to tell my brother to disown me.
People started ostracising my family and stopped talking to them. They were treated like outcasts in their locality. They called me anti-national when the victim I supported was an Indian. It was absurd. But my family, my husband who lives abroad, my daughter and my friends stood by me. The trial was transferred to Pathankot due to the support of senior Supreme Court advocate Indira Jaisingh. She worked late nights tirelessly despite being unwell. Her only focus was the child. The threats have now come down considerably, because my abusers know that I have tremendous support, not just in national media but international as well. The abuse still persists nevertheless.
You must be aware of the watershed #MeToo movement. How is it taking shape in Jammu?
The movement is gaining momentum even in Jammu. I salute all the women who have come forward to talk about sexual abuse and harassment. Every woman needs the guts to say #MeToo and all complaints should be investigated. But as a lawyer, I believe that there should be no delay in lodging such complaints. I understand that it is often difficult to raise one’s voice immediately, but there’s a better chance of ensuring justice if it’s reported promptly.
When victims go to court, they are questioned about such delay. It is this delay that allows the accused to have “the benefit of doubt.
Talib Hussain, who led the campaign to ensure justice for the Kathua victim, is now facing rape charges. Do you feel let down by his hypocrisy?
Talib Hussain was the crucial link between us and the parents. He was the one who arranged meetings with them. It has been a major setback to learn that the one who supported the Kathua rape victim’s family himself is accused of rape. The allegations against him should certainly be investigated. The police should take suo motu action. In fact, they should take suo motu action on all such complaints. If Talib Hussain is guilty of this crime, he should be severely dealt by law; no mercy should be shown.
Will the allegation against him have a bearing on the Kathua case?
No, I don’t think so. He is a witness in the Kathua case. We should not link Talib’s case to the Kathua case. The defence could try to link the two, though.
What does the Mother Teresa Award mean to you?
When I was in Std V, I wanted to do something for children from slums. I then started reading about Mother Teresa. There is even a picture of her adorning my office wall. I was called Mother Teresa as a child. She has been my idol. There cannot be a bigger honour than getting an award dedicated to her. ( Mumbai Mirror )