Nitish Katara murder – The complete story

Nitish Katara was a year old business executive in Delhi who was murdered in the early hours of February , , apparently by the son of an influential Indian politician. The son of an IAS officer in the Ministry of Shipping, Nitish had recently graduated from the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad. There, he had fallen in love with his classmate, Bharti Yadav, who comes from a criminal-politician family. It is widely believed that he was murdered by Bharti’s brother Vikas Yadav, because the family did not approve their relationship.

Bharti Yadav is the daughter of D. P. Yadav, “unrivalled don of western Uttar Pradesh”. Before entering politics, D. P. Yadav had racked up nine murder charges, and was behind a spurious liquor sale which killed people in the early s. Since , he has served several terms as minister in the state government with Mulayam Singh Yadav. In , he became a member of the Indian Parliament under the Bharatiya Janata Party but such was the ensuiing scandal that the party threw him out within days. Most recently, he narrowly won the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, from Sahaswan (margin of in , votes cast). Bharti’s mother, Umlesh Yadav, is also a state legislator, representing neighbouring Bisauli.

The Yadav family never liked Bharti’s liaison, and Nitish had received threats several times. However, he was an idealist, and believed in “standing up to injustice”. On the night of February, ,Nitish and Bharti were attending a common friend’s wedding, where Bharti’s brother, Vikas and a cousin were present as well. From there, Nitish was taken for a drive by Bharti’s brother Vikas and Vishal Yadav, and never returned. Nitish’s only mistake that took his life was that he agreed to go with them thinking that Vikas really wanted to talk and sort out the differences between them, and failed to sense that the hidden motive behind the drive was solely to end Bharti’s love tangles with him. The following morning, his body was found by the highway; he had been battered to death with a hammer, diesel poured on him, and set aflame.

The ensuing trial has riveted the nation – a flock of witnesses have repudiated their initial testimony, as often happens with high-profile defendants in India. In view of acquittals in many such cases (e.g. Sanjeev Nanda), and occasional convictions after initial acquittals (e.g. Manu Sharma), this case is under intense scrutiny in India.

A tragic love

By , Nitish and Bharti were an established couple; they had been seeing each other for over four years. In her court testimony in , Bharti Yadav denied any relationship beyond friendship, but she admitted to sending him cards such as the following (from April ):

Chimpu, it’s easy to love you, you listen to me without judging … you are so easy to talk to, so easy to feel close to, so easy to love … Happy Birthday. -Sweetiepie”

That they were in love was no secret among their friends. Gifts were frequently exchanged (his body was recognized by a wristwatch which Bharti had given him), and on one occasion they vacationed in Mumbai to celebrate the birthday of Bharti’s sister Bhavna Yadav. For a bank account that Bharti was opening at the Banque Nationale de Paris branch in New Delhi, she gave his address as her own.

But it was clear that the Yadav family did not like Nitish. On the other hand, Bharti was quite close to the Nitish’s family, especially to his mother, Neelam Katara.

Why the Yadav family did not approve of the alliance is not clear, but there was a clear class difference between the two groups, The Yadavs had acquired wealth but remained rough, while the Kataras were refined but middle-class. Even Nitish’s family were not comfortable with the expensive gifts Bharti would give him. In his confession to the police, Vikas Yadav appears to be explaining his actions by saying that “the affair was damaging our family’s reputation”. In any event, Nitish was threatened several times, and Bharti was tense about how her family might react.

edit The friend’s wedding

On –, Bharti and Nitish were both invited to their friend Shivani Gaur’s wedding in Ghaziabad. Bharti’s mother, her brother Vikas and sister Bhavna were all there. Nitish and Bharti are reported to have danced together (though Bharti has since denied this), and there was some speculation in the media that seeing this may have inflamed Vikas Yadav.

After the wedding, four people remembered seeing Vikas Yadav and his cousin Vishal Yadav take Nitish into their Tata Safari SUV. His friends thought he would be returning soon, but when they had not returned till well past midnight, Bharat Divakar, who had accompanied Nitish to the wedding in a taxi, went to their house. It was AM when Neelam Katara opened the door, and she immediately called Bharti. It turned out that Bharti herself was trying to find out Nitish’s whereabouts, and was quite tense herself. She asked Neelam “to go to the police, adding that maybe her brothers — Vikas and Vishal — had taken Nitish to Punjab”. Bharti is thought to have called her sister Bhawna Yadav, whose registered cell phone number was used all night to call many friends of Bharti and Nitish Katara, as well as Neelam.

Bharti also gave Neelam her father’s number, and after a fruitless visit to the police, at in the morning, Neelam called D. P. Yadav, who did not know where Vikas or Nitish might be.

Next morning, the police found a battered and burned body at Khurja, km from the wedding venue. The body had been so badly beaten that “the digestive system had fallen out”. Neelam Katara recalls the moment:

I had to identify the body through the watch that Bharti Yadav had given him. The police kept asking me if I recognised my son – the charred remains of my son.

Bharti was questioned by a policewoman; this was recorded as her verbal testimony:

My friendship with Nitish Katara became a love affair… I began to love Nitish from the bottom of my heart… Nitish told his mother that he wanted to marry me. After the wedding ceremony I and Nitish Katara danced. At around .am, I came to know that Vikas and Vishal Yadav had asked Nitish to come out with them. I feared for Nitish’s life. I searched… everywhere but didn’t find them.

At in the morning, Neelam Katara filed a First Information Report. Based on initial statements by her and Bharti Yadav, warrants were issued for Vikas and Vishal. At the time, Vikas Yadav was already on bail in the Jessica Lal murder case; he has since been convicted in that case and is serving a four year sentence.

edit Arrest and initial Confession

Vikas and Vishal went underground, but they were arrested a few days at a train station in Dabra, Madhya Pradesh. Inspector Ashok Bidhoria arrested Vikas and Vishal Yadav in Dabra, and in his original statement to the court, he said that the Yadavs had confessed having kidnapped Katara from Kavi Nagar, Ghaziabad. However, under cross-examination the inspector changed his stand saying the accused persons made no confessional statements in his presence.

Another police constable, Brij Mohan Mishra, who was at the Dabra police station where the Yadavs were brought after being arrested, said in court: “The accused persons themselves said that they had murdered Nitish Katara after kidnapping him. He added that he had told inspector Bidhoria about the disclosure, but Bidhoria “did not produce me before any magistrate to get my statement recorded”.

Apparently, Ashok Bidhoria’s brother is a business associate of D P Yadav, but he denies that this fact may have had any bearing on his actions.

edit Second confession

After being handed over to the U.P. police, they gave a more detailed confession on having kidnapped and killed Nitish Katara, which the Police recorded on audiotape. In May , the NDTV news channel managed to obtain the tape and broadcast it, which gives a detailed sequence of what might have happened:

“On February , , my family was invited to a wedding party in Ghaziabad. My sisters Bhavna and Bharti, my mother, my cousin brother Vishal and I were there. So was Nitish Katara. Nitish and my sister, Bharti, were in love and people knew about this.

The affair was damaging my family’s reputation. I never approved of their relationship. When I saw Nitish at the party, Vishal and I decided this was a great opportunity to fix things, a chance we would not get again. After the baraat ceremony, Vishal and I had our dinner; we saw Nitish eating with his friends.

I told Vishal to take Nitish outside. It was midnight. Vishal and I made Nitish sit in the front seat of our Tata Safari. Vishal and Sukhdev Pehelwan were sitting at the back. I was driving. We reached Balwant Rai Mehta Lane at around . am, and stopped.

We made Nitish move to the back seat , now Vishal and Pehlwan held him tight. I drove again and stopped somewhere between Bulandsher and Khurja.

Using all my strength, I hit Nitish’s head with a hammer. He fainted and after a while he died. We drove one kilometre and then we threw his body onto the road.

Vishal removed Nitish’s cell phone from his kurta pocket. He also took Nitish’s wristwatch and hid both these in the bushes that were nearby. I took the hammer that I used to murder Nitish and we hid that in the bushes too.

Then we took the diesel from our car’s tank, poured it on Nitish’s body and we set it on fire. Then we drove to Delhi. I can help the police to find the hammer I used. I can take them to the spot where Nitish was murdered. I can also show you where my Tata Safari is in Alwar.”

However this confession, which was made a week or so after the murder, was not formalized before a magistrate, and is therefore not admissible as evidence in court.

Bharti Yadav, whose testimony was being sought in the trial, shifted to London for an extended period shortly after the murder. From there, she apparently sent some e-mails to Nitish’s brother, which blame her father D. P. Yadav for sanctioning the murder. In her subsequent court testimony however, she has claimed that the account “oopcie@yahoo.com” was not her email.

edit Vikas Yadav: Past criminal record

In , Vikas Yadav was charged with shooting and killing one Devendra Singh near his home in Ghaziabad. At the time D. P. Yadav was with the Samajwadi Party, and was a minister in the state cabinet of Mulayam Singh Yadav. In , while investigations were continuing, the state government mysteriously ordered police to withdraw the case against Vikas.

In , Vikas Yadav was involved in the sensational Jessica Lall murder, where politician son Manu Sharma, angered after being refused a drink after the bar was closed, took out a revolver and shot celebrity server Jessica Lall. That case also went through a similar trajectory, with all witnesses retracting initial statements of having seen the murder, and the defence got some witnesses to say that a second person had fired a second bullet. The trial court set Manu free in January .

However, the subsequent national hue and cry and the prosecution appealed the decision in the High Court. The court reconsidered the same evidence, and pointed out flaws in earlier arguments, particularly how one eyewitness who had not retracted, had been held as a “bad witness”. The court convicted Manu Sharma, blaming the earlier judge for “lack of application of mind suggesting a hasty approach towards securing a particular end, namely the acquittal”. Manu was sentenced to life, while Vikas Yadav was found guilty of destroying evidence and conspiracy, for which he is currently serving a four-year term. He has been refused bail several times in this conviction.

Interestingly, the inspector in charge of the Jessica Lal case, Surrender Sharma, in an interview to the Times of India, pointed fingers at DP Yadav for influencing the forensic officer to alter the evidence (switching a bullet) in the Jessica Lall case:

“Sharma hinted that Roop Singh did this at the behest of D P Yadav, the father of one of the accused Vikas Yadav, and an unnamed arms dealer.”.

However, D. P. Yadav told the paper that he had not met any one from the Lab or any policeman involved in the investigation.

Vikas Yadav and Sukhdev Pehelwan, whose bail application has also been rejected, are both in Tihar jail.

In another document leaked by the media, the investigationg officer in the Katara case, J K Gangawar, writes in the formal disclosure document:

The accused persons led us to Khurja Shakarpur Road and they pointed out the place where Nitish’s dead body was burnt.

The accused, Vikas, recovered the hammer which he had used from the bushes, which were about seven steps away from the place pointed out by him of burning.

He himself took out the hammer from among the bushes. The wrist watch was recovered by Vishal from the bushes about five steps away from the place where Vikas recovered the hammer.

The accused pointed at a ditch and said ‘see where the soil is black and wet. That is where we poured diesel on Nitish Katara’s dead body. Then we set it on fire.

This disclosure statement which is also signed by the lawyer for Vishal and Vikas Yadav, is probably a more acceptable form of evidence compared to a police confession.

edit Bharti Yadav Testimony

Considerable drama and media attention focused on the protracted struggle (over four and a half years) to obtain the testimony of Bharti Yadav. Her reluctance to testify only highlighted media speculation that the family was worried her testimony might go against her own brother. Lawyers on her behalf made thirty-nine () appeals that she be relieved. In March , the Uttar Pradesh state prosecution counsel also moved that she not be called.

Initially, Bharti told a policewoman of her love for Nitish. But in March , within two weeks of this initial verbal statement, a team of the Ghaziabad police headed by Dr Dharam Veer Singh and Anil Samanya met Bharati Yadav and D. P. Yadav, at his Rajya Sabha residence (at the time, D. P. Yadav was a Member of Parliament with the Bharatiya Janata Party). She told them that “her relationship with Nitish was like that of a classmate and there was nothing special about them.”

Immediately after this, Bharti Yadav went to London to study and “was believed to have been working as a staff nurse”. The family strongly resisted her being called as a witness. She could not be traced, and repeated warrants and non-bailable warrants were not heeded to.

By March , all other witnesses in the case had been examined, except for Bharti Yadav. Pressure mounted on getting Bharti Yadav to testify. After a year without success, the UP prosecuting team dropped her as a prosecution witness, which was challenged by Neelam Katara, saying that she was a material witness, and in dropping her, the prosecution may have been influenced by D. P. Yadav. Delhi prosecutor Mukta Gupta in September said that “it showed the malafide intention of the Uttar Pradesh Prosecutor to request for dropping of Bharti as witness”. In October , the court ruled that she was a material witness and would be required to testify.

In August , the Supreme Court, responding to an appeal from Nitish Katara’s mother, shifted the trial from Ghaziabad to Delhi because of D. P. Yadav’s considerable influence in the area, including its administration and judiciary.

Meanwhile, despite several court warrants, Bharti still could not be traced. In May , Bharti Yadav’s passport was revoked by the Ministry of External Affairs, so that her stay in UK was technically illegal. Furthermore, her visa was expiring on November , making it difficult for her to continue living in the UK. Nonetheless, the family kept resisting: in May , D. P. Yadav stated in court that he did not know his daughter’s whereabouts.

On –, an application was moved by Bharti’s maternal uncle Bharat Singh (a member of the UP Legislative Council), requesting that she be permitted to testify via Video conferencing. However, the court turned down this request noting that

“since she has chosen to stay away from the court, thereby delaying the proceedings substantially, the court was satisfied that she had absconded by avoiding appearance before the court despite having sufficient knowledge of the proceedings pending in the court where her presence as a witness was required”.

In danger of being declared proclaimed offender, when she may be arrested and deported from London, Bharti agreed to depose before the court. Based on her convenience, November , was set for her testimony, and she was assured that she would not be detained upon arrival. The trial court permitted her to testify in camera, ruling out the media, but permitting the defendant’s parents, as well as Neelam Katara, to attend. Here again, she filed court for not having Neelam Katara present.

Compared to the huge media attention caused by her extended refusal to testify, her actual deposition, made public after a few weeks, was on expected lines. She denied any romantic attachment to Nitish, and said that they had simply been close friends. She also denied having sent certain emails. However, she did not deny having sent the cards and giftscitation needed

edit Witnesses turns hostile

Of the four people at the wedding who had initially said they saw Nitish go into the car with Vikas, three had already withdrawn their testimony. Only Rohit Gaur, brother of Shivani Gaur, whose wedding it was, was left as having seen Vikas and Vishal taking Nitish in his car. However, on September , , he made the following statement in court:

It is incorrect to suggest that I informed the police that on the day of the marriage, around midnight, Vishal came near Nitish Katara and had a conversation with him and took him outside where Vikas Yadav was present and that both Vikas and Vishal took Nitish in their vehicle.

He also denied having stated that Bharti and Nitish were lovers.

Another constable, Inderjeet, who had initially testified to seeing Vikas, Vishal, and Sukhdev Pehalwan with Nitish in the Tata Safari on the night of February , now denied this in language remarkably similar to other retractions: “it was wrong to suggest that he had seen the three accused with the victim in a Tata Safari”.

Witnesses turning hostile is a common trajectory for high profile murder cases involving rich and powerful people in India (see Manu Sharma and Sanjeev Nanda). In a number of prominent cases, the accused have walked away after witnesses turn back on earlier testimony, evidence appears to be tampered with by the police, and even judges are suspected to have been influenced.

Of late, however, courts have been careful in considering the possibility of witnesses turning hostile. Recent verdicts like the Priyadarshini Mattoo case (Oct ) as well as the Manu Sharma conviction (February ) indicate that it may not be quite as easy for the high and mighty to keep fooling the system.

edit The last witness

In a decision refusing bail to Sukhdev Pehalwan in April , Justice B.D. Ahmed pointed to the relevance of the testimony of passerby Ajay Kumar, who had seen them on the fateful night:

Ajay Kumar who, in his Section Cr. P.C. Statement, is reported to have stated that on the intervening night -.., he was traveling on his two wheeler (Scooter) from th Battalion, PAC Quarters towards Delhi when, around : a.m. at the Hapur Toll Tax Crossing his scooter broken down. Shortly thereafter, a Tata Safari driven by the accused Vikas Yadav came from behind from the direction of Police Station Kavi Nagar, Ghaziabad and the said Vikas Yadav asked him to remove his scooter immediately. It is stated that the said Ajay Kumar saw one person who had a round face and a fair complexion and was wearing a red Kurta and who had covered his shoulder with a white shawl sitting next to Vikas Yadav in the Tata Safari. The said witness (Ajay Kumar) has also reported to have seen Vishal Yadav and the petitioner on the back seat.

In June , Ajay Kumar (also referred to as Ajay Katara, but not a relation) had filed a complaint to the police that “he was under pressure to withdraw from the case” and that “his life was in danger”. He was then assigned four personal security officers (PSOs) on the orders of the trial court. On July , , two brothers, Manoj and Anuj Sharma, called him to the Mohan Nagar temple saying he could meet his separated wife there to sort out his domestic problems. Three more people were apparently waiting nearby in a car. But his wife never showed up and the Sharma’s bought him some chaat. Right after eating it, Ajay suddenly took very ill, vomiting and complaining of stomach cramps. He immediately went to hospital, where he was treated for food poisoning. A case has been registered against D. P. Yadav aned four others on suspicion of having poisoned Ajay Kumar.

edit New Turns

In July , one Pawan Kumar Diwan suddenly showed up for the defence, saying that Vikas Yadav had come to his house in Karnal, at AM on the night of – February, , for attending a ceremony the following day. He also submitted photographs showing Vikas Yadav at the ceremony. This has led to speculation that possibly the Yadavs are sensing that things are not going well, and this may be a bid to change the story at the last moment.

Despite most of the witnesses having turned hostile, there is still considerable circumstantial and overall evidence in the case. While recent judgements such as the Priyadarshini Mattoo and Manu Sharma cases lend some hope, it is not at all clear where the final verdict might lie.

Vikas and Vishal were found guilty by the trial court on May . The quantum of punishment would be handed down on May . The convicts have stated that they would appeal against the decision in the higher courts.

source:wikipedia

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