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 CURRENT ISSUE MARCH 11, 2002  

CRIME: KATARA KILLING

Evil Impulse

The arrest of Vikas Yadav in connection with the murder of a bureaucrat's son poses a challenge to prosecutors. Will justice be swift?

By Sayantan Chakravarty

"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

SCENE OF CRIME: (Top) Nitish, in white shawl, and Bharati in blue sari; Vishal and Vikas (encircled) at the wedding of friends Shivani and Amrit

A birthday card stole its way last April from a woman in love to a man who would pay a heavy price for this. But "Sweetiepie" Bharati Singh's words weren't quite appropriate. It wasn't "so easy" for her to love Chimpu, better known as Nitish Katara, wary as she was of her conservative family. Yet, love him she did, like any intense 23-year-old would, fearing neither parental retribution nor clannish backlash.

Daughter of MP D.P. Yadav, who has received more media attention for subverting the law than for shaping it (see box), Bharati was nevertheless unprepared for the blinding rage of her brother Vikas Yadav, 29. Bharati's mother knew of her romance with Nitish, both of whom had graduated from the Institute of Management Technology (IMT) in Ghaziabad. Though the family was against the relationship, Vikas, in particular, could not bear Bharati's open courtship of a man whom he clearly considered less than equal in every way.

The Kataras are typically middle class: Nitish's father, Nisheeth, is a senior Railways official who was allotted a bungalow at 7, Chelmsford Road, a whistle away from the New Delhi Railway Station, in 1984. Nitish lived with his parents and after completing his MBA joined the Delhi office of Reliance General Insurance Ltd. The Yadavs, on the other hand, had ceased to be middle class in the 1970s. They own industries and liquor vends in the Moradabad-Meerut belt of Uttar Pradesh. But the conservative streak persists-Bharati wasn't allowed to work after her MBA, and also knew that marrying outside the Yadav clan would not be acceptable to her family.

  CRIME

THE FINAL MOMENTS

12.30 a.m. Feb 17 Vikas and Vishal take Nitish away from the hall.

3 a.m. Neelam calls up Bharati after Nitish fails to return from wedding.

8 a.m. Neelam talks to D.P. Yadav, who says he's unsure where his son is.

11.15 a.m. Neelam files an fir soon after Nitish's body is recovered.

Feb 23 Vikas and Vishal arrested.

On February 17, Bharati's life, like that of the Kataras, changed forever. Around 12.30 a.m., Nitish was asked by Vikas and his cousin Vishal to step out with them from the Diamond Palace, a banquet hall in Ghaziabad's Kavi Nagar area. Nitish had been talking to Bharati at the wedding of Shivani Gaur and Amit Arora, fellow students at the IMT. No one thought much about the little walk Nitish was taking with the Yadavs, not even Nitish's close friends and IMT batchmates, Gaurav Gupta and Bharat Divakar, who were the last to see him leave and will now be key witnesses in the murder case against the two Yadavs.

The police have charged Vikas and Vishal with murder, kidnapping for murder and removing evidence. Senior officials believe Nitish was killed by the Yadavs and hired hoodlums soon after he was called out. Nitish apparently slipped into a coma after being struck on his head with a heavy, blunt object, possibly a crowbar.

The blows ultimately proved fatal. In their haste to remove evidence, the killers dumped the body at Khurja, 80 km away from Diamond Palace, but not before setting fire to it. Interrogators say Vikas has mentioned hiring a wrestler to teach Nitish a lesson-efforts are on to trace the man if at all he exists. Says Ghaziabad ssp Prashant Kumar who is overseeing the case: "We will be fair in our probe even though we know the Yadavs' reputation for dodging the law."

  CRIME

D.P. YADAV
LIKE SON, LIKE FATHER

In Ghaziabad he is more than just a household name. D.P.Yadav is the unrivalled don of this western Uttar Pradesh district. Many have tried to dislodge him, but failed.

Despite being a Rajya Sabha member, Yadav has a mile-long criminal record. He is a proclaimed history sheeter (No. 2B) at the Kavi Nagar police station in Ghaziabad. "The police maintain a surveillance on him," admits Prashant Kumar, ssp, Ghaziabad.

The Yadavs are only too familiar with the Kavi Nagar police station. Yadav has five cases registered against him here, including the first of his career: an excise offence committed in 1978. Cases under the ipc for rioting, attempt to murder, kidnapping for murder, and others under provisions of the Arms Act and the Uttar Pradesh Goonda Act followed.

Overall, Yadav has 25 cases against him, 12 in Ghaziabad, the rest in Dadri, Bulandshahr (Uttar Pradesh), Narwana (Haryana) and Delhi. They include offences under tada, Indian Telegraph Act, Gangster Act and Representation of People's Act.

Such has been Yadav's clout that in 1995 he pressured the Mulayam Singh Yadav government to withdraw the first case against his son, Vikas. The government obliged. The decision is being contested by the defence.

Nitish's badly charred body was recovered just after day-break on February 17. Last week, forensic experts in a Delhi laboratory were able to match the fingerprints of the body to those lifted from Nitish's driving licence.

Vikas and Vishal were arrested under mysterious circumstances on February 23 at the Dabra railway station in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh.The Gwalior Police claim they were routinely screening people boarding the train-an unusual practice at railway stations, more so at Dabra-and recovered used pistol cartridges from Vikas. This show of efficiency creates a doubt about why the Yadavs chose to be where they were at the time of their arrest. Did they fear the Uttar Pradesh Police more than their counterparts in Madhya Pradesh?

For Nitish's mother Neelam, the torment began when she answered the doorbell at 3 a.m. on February 17. Divakar, who had left with Nitish in a taxi at 9.30 p.m., stood at the doorway. He had returned after Nitish failed to get back to the wedding even after an hour. A worried Neelam then began making frantic calls, the first to Bharati on her cell phone.

Bharati had been a regular at the Katara residence over the past year even though "the Yadavs would never have agreed to let her marry outside their clan", says Neelam. Not that the Kataras were too keen on the marriage considering D.P. Yadav's formidable reputation. When Bharati learnt that Nitish hadn't returned, her instinctive reaction was to raise an alarm: "You don't know my family. They can be dangerous," she told Neelam. "Please do everything to trace Nitish."

They called up several friends and acquaintances but both Vikas and Nitish remained untraced. At 8 a.m. on February 17, Neelam spoke to D.P. Yadav, who was campaigning in Allahabad for his newly formed Rashtriya Parivartan Dal for the assembly elections. The senior Yadav remained vague about his son's whereabouts.

THE OTHER TWO

DEVENDRA SINGH was shot near his home in Ghaziabad in 1991. Vikas was held for the murder. The case was withdrawn in 1996.
 
JESSICA LALL
The ramp model was shot dead in a Delhi bar. A co-accused in the case, Vikas managed to secure a bail.

Soon after, the police were informed and Nitish's body was recovered a couple of hours later. Neelam identified it as that of her son. "His feet were rather small for his height (5 ft 10 in). The body was burnt but I recognised his feet," says Neelam, breaking down. At 11.15 a.m. the same day at the Kavi Nagar police station, Neelam tremulously lodged an fir for kidnapping with intent to murder-after the Yadavs' arrests, more sections of the IPC, including murder, were added. Vikas is the prime accused in the fir. Compounding his woes, Vikas failed to win the Bisoli seat in the recently concluded assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. Bisoli is part of the Sambhal Lok Sabha constituency from where his father had earlier contested and lost.

Vikas and trouble have had a long association. In July 1991, Vikas was arrested for the murder of Devendra Singh, a 23-year-old student at the M.G. Polytechnic in Hathras. In 1996 the state government withdrew the case during Mulayam Singh Yadav's reign as chief minister.

Vikas is also a co-accused in the April 1999 murder of model Jessica Lall in Delhi. He had subsequently tried to browbeat the police by obtaining a dubious bail order from Manipur. Says I.P. Singh, Devendra's father: "Nothing will come of these arrests. Justice is too heavily tilted in favour of the defence." Adds Amod Kanth, JCP, Delhi Police, who till recently was overseeing the Lall case: "People like Yadav try to manipulate and overawe the criminal justice system."

In which case the law enforcers have their task cut out.

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